The Black Death
The Black Death was the name for a plague (disease) that spread throughout Europe between 1347 and 1350, which had no cure and was highly contagious, meaning it was easily spread from person to person.
Most likely, the disease began in Asia and traveled westward. Historians believed the plague was spread from animal populations to humans through fleas and dying rats. The bacteria of the plague damaged the vital organs of those who became infected, which caused a person to die. Men, women, and children died due to the disease.
The disease arrived in Europe on trading ships that journeyed through the Black Sea. As people gathered on the dock to greet the trading ships, they were shocked at what they had witnessed. Nearly all the sailors aboard the ships were dead, and the living were terribly ill.
The symptoms of the plague included a high fever, vomiting, chills, swellings, diarrhea, and deliriousness (seeing things) caused from the extreme pain the victim suffered. In addition, the disease caused the body to be covered in mysterious black boils that oozed blood and pus. The name 'Black Death' comes from this strange covering on the person's body. Though the ships were ordered out of the harbor, it was too late, because the disease already had begun to spread.
For the next few years, nearly millions of people were killed in Europe, about 1/3 of Europe's population. In Paris, France, about 800 people died every day as the disease spread. Because of the massive number of deaths, people were not buried as usual, but were dumped into large pits. Sometimes entire towns or villages became like ghost towns, nearly everyone had died.
It spread easily and rapidly. People who may have gone to bed healthy, woke up the next morning with the plague suffering and in pain due to the symptoms, often dead by the morning. It was spread by just touching the clothes of a person who had the plague. It also spread to sheep, cows, goats, pigs, chickens, and other animals.
Throughout Europe, people panicked thinking it was the end of the world. Many believed it was a punishment from God against their sinning such as greed, blasphemy, heresy and others. They thought the only way to overcome the plague was to try and earn God's forgiveness. Some people began to kill others who they thought were troublemakers, as well as those who were a different religion, but the plague continued.
Neighbors were fighting neighbors, and people would try and hide in their homes to avoid the plague. However, because rats and fleas were everywhere, especially in cities, the disease would kill those in hiding too. Some areas burned downed houses and entire towns to stop the horrific disease.
As a cure, some physicians relied on a technique called bloodletting, which was a removal of blood from the person's body; or other unsanitary practices were used to try and stop the disease. There were also superstitious practices such as burning special plants or taking a bath in vinegar or rosewater.
Today, scientists better understand the plague or the Black Death. The disease is called the bubonic plague, and very few people get the disease today. If people do get it, they usually recover without any problems. The Black Death did not reach North or South America, but historians believe between 50 to over 100 million people in all may have died to this terrible disease.
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