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Monday, June 6, 2011

Black Plague

Original Article

They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street, others dying in their houses

- Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 – 1375)
You may remember from history lessons that "The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. ... The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% – 60% of Europe's population" (Wikipedia) Did you know that the Black Plague was not a one-time occurrence?

There have been three major outbreaks of plague. The Plague of Justinian in the 6th and 7th centuries is the first known attack on record, and marks the first firmly recorded pattern of bubonic plague. [Some credit this for the downfall of Rome] From historical descriptions, as much as 40% of the population of Constantinople died from the plague. ... After 750, major epidemic diseases did not appear again in Europe until the Black Death of the 14th century. The Third Pandemic hit China in the 1890s and devastated India but was confined to limited outbreaks in the west.
What I thought was medieval and gone is still around. Los Angeles in 1924-25 experienced a rat-borne epidemic where plague was spread from rats to fleas to people. New Mexico has seen 262 human cases of bubonic plague between 1949 and 2010 with fleas from rodents, squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, and occasionally rabbits.

An early telltale sign of the plague is swollen, painful lymph nodes known as buboes. Without treatment, the illness can infect the blood (known as septicemic plague) and finally the lungs. At this point, the infection becomes known as plague pneumonia, or pneumonic plague. The mortality rate increases considerably at this point. - LA Times
Here is a description of the plague from the 1300's,

"In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumours in the groin or armpits, some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg...From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently; after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, now minute and numerous. As the gavocciolo had been and still was an infallible token of approaching death, such also were these spots on whomsoever they showed themselves."

- Giovanni Boccaccio
Bottom Line

Always, always visit a doctor if you find swollen bumps. It probably won't be plague but it could be a sign of a serious internal infection or hernia or advanced stage of cancer that needs immediate and aggressive treatment. Do not delay - in the case of bubonic plague 80% of those who die, will die within eight days.