The Bubonic Plague
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The Bubonic Plague is one of the most
deadly diseases of all time as well as one of the most
famous. Although it is not common these days to see it, it
was widespread during the medieval times where millions
had died. It was so widespread, it was said that there was
not enough living to bury the dead. Rodents ran the
unsanitary streets that carried the fleas that had the disease.
This is how the Bubonic Plague was spread. It was
believed at the time by the people that the gods were
punishing them for things they had done wrong in the past.
The Bubonic Plague is transmitted either though an infected
rodent (rats, rabbits, etc.) carrying bugs (fleas). A person
will become ill two to six days after being infected with the
Bubonic Plague. It was first thought that the rats themselves
transmitted the Bubonic Plague because when people
found dead rats in the towns' streets, they would usually
flee their civilization in fear of the rodents. But in 1898,
Simond observed that people would only get the disease if
you came in contact with a rodent or rat that was dead for
a short amout of time. Simond also discovered that if you
were in contact with one that had been dead for more than
twenty-four hours, the chance of catching the Bubonic
Plague would be quite minimal. It is called the Bubonic
Plague because once you have the disease, it will, in most
cases, cause lymph glands to swell up and become very
tender with pain. These swollen glands are called "buboes".
If the Bubonic Plague is left untreated, the bacteria will
enter the blood stream and travel to other places inside the
body like organs such as lungs, liver, and the spleen. If it
does enter the lungs, it can cause a pneumonic form of the
Bubonic Plague. The symptoms for this are high fever,
chils, cough, and breathing difficulty. They may even spit up
blood, depending upon how severe the infection is. Like I
said earlier, the Bubonic Plague is not very common these
days, but that is because we live in the United States where
our sanitary level is fairly high. But in Africa, Asia, and
South America, several people die from it every year. In
fact, there is reported that world wide tehre are one
thousand to three thousand cases of the Bubonic Plague
each year. In the United States, the Bubonic Plague is only
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Bubonic Medieval Times Rats Bugs Rabbits Contact Organs Liver Breathing Towns
found in warmer and more unsanitary regions like the
southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, etc.). Around ten to
fifteen or so a year are infected with the Bubonic Plague,
and of them, only 14 percent (one out of seven) actually die
from the disease. The last outbreak of the Bubonic Plague
in the United States was in the years of 1924 to 1925 in
Los Angeles. The Bubonic Plague virus was discovered
and isolated in 1984 by two men in Hong Kong, Japan
known as Yersin and Kitasato. The virus was named after
Yersin (Yersinia pestis) and Kitasato was left in the dust.
The Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages versus the AIDS Epidemic of the Later 1900s
The destruction and devastation caused by the Black Death of the Middle Ages was a phenomenon left to wonder at in text books of historical Europe. An unstoppable plague swept the continent taking as much as eighty percent of the European population along with it (Forsyth). However, Today the world is plagued with a similar deadly disease. The AIDS epidemic continues to be incurable. In an essay written by David Herlihy, entitled Bubonic Plague: Historical Epidemiology and the Medical Problems, the historic bubonic plague is compared with the current AIDS epidemic of today. According to his research, AIDS will probably prove to be the plague of the millennium (Herlihy p. 18). If one compares the epidemiology and social impact of these diseases they prove to be quite similar. The current AIDS epidemic has the potential to be the most dangerous and destructive plague of the millennium.
No one knows exactly how the AIDS virus erupted. However, one presently dominant theory states that AIDS originated from monkeys in Africa that transmitted the HIV virus to humans through bites (Forsyth). As people migrated it reached Haiti and then spread to America (Clark p. 65). The bubonic plague, too, was a spontaneous epidemic. The Black Death occurred because a bacillus was carried by fleas that fed off the blood of humans and transmitted the deadly bacillus in the process (Packer). It began in China and spread by migration throughout all of Europe and even America (Forsyth). Efforts to contain both diseases were entirely unsuccessful. AIDS is now an international problem as was the bubonic plague.
Like the bubonic plague did in the Middle Ages, AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate. In 1994 seventeen million people around the world were infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, and four million had developed the disease (Packer). It is estimated that by the year 2000 more than forty million people, ninety percent in developing countries will be infected (Packer). The Black Death of the Middle Ages exterminated a third of the population of Europe in just four years.
Also, like the bubonic plague, AIDS was once only found among certain delineated social groups: (Herlihy p. 18) drug abusers and homosexuals in this country and in prostitutes and their contacts in Africa. Due to the early epidemiology of AIDS cases, it was believed that only certain populations in specific areas were infected. Aids may have started out in small communities, but it spread quickly and widely. We are now aware that the HIV virus is not limited in its selection of hosts. Anyone can become infected despite one s background. Similarly, the plague of the Middle Ages was once believed to only infect the impoverished. Royalty was quick to learn. People of various social statures ultimately became victims.
Socially people responded in similar fashions to these scourges. When AIDS first arrived, families often withdrew from their loved one s because they were ashamed or they did not want to deal with the heartbreaking struggle of a long painful death of a family member. Society shunned AIDS victims, fearing the contagious threat of any contact. During the Middle Ages families would place their ill relatives in the streets to die. It was too much of a risk to aid the infected because commonly those who did became infected as well. It was even believed that one could become infected just through a stare from someone who was infected. Presently and in the past, infected peoples have been disregarded and feared. It is because of superstitions and prejudices that societies live in ignorance and fear.
When compared with the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages, the epidemiology and virulence of the AIDS virus are strikingly similar. If history remains a reliable guide, this epidemic too will run its vicious course, spreading acute misery. Then it will take its place in the background of the ecosystem, alongside the organisms that cause influenza, syphilis, measles and a host of other infections. (Manning)
The similar characteristics of the bubonic plague and the HIV virus threaten AIDS to be the most dangerous and destructive plague of the millennium as David Herlihy proposed.