The recent announcement that Liberia has become Ebola-free got me to thinking of the formative role pandemics have played in European history.
The Black Death (or Bubonic Plague) was one of the most devastating events in human history. It resulted in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people—or 30%–60% of Europe’s total population—and peaked in the years 1346–53. It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover.
The Black Death is thought to have originated in the arid plains of Central Asia, from whence it then traveled along the Silk Road, reaching the Crimea by 1343. It was most likely carried from there through the Black Sea and Mediterranean by Oriental rat fleas living on black rats which were regular passengers on merchant ships. Modern analysis of DNA from the remains of victims in northern and southern Europe indicates that the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium, probably causing several forms of plague.
The aftermath of the plague created a series of religious, social, and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history. As an art history major when I was in college, I generally look at the visual record to see the impact of big events—which is why this post is once again a photo essay.
The plague repeatedly returned to haunt Europe and the Mediterranean throughout the 14th to 17th centuries. The plague was present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671, and occasionally until the 19th century.
The first North American plague epidemic was the San Francisco plague of 1900–04, followed by another outbreak in 1907–08. From 1944 through 1993, 362 cases of human plague were reported in the United States; approximately 90% occurred in four western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico. Plague was confirmed in the United States from 9 western states during 1995. Currently, 5 to 15 people in the United States are estimated to catch the disease each year—typically in western states; the disease is kept under control by the use of insecticides, antibiotics, and a plague vaccine.
However, the plague bacterium could develop drug-resistance and become a major health threat again.
Groove of the Day
86° and Clear to Partly Cloudy