The Black Plague Facts

April 2, 2012 | In: Medical facts

The Black Plague is also known as The Black Death. It is a plague epidemic that swept through Europe from 1348 through 1351, killing an estimated 25–60% of Europeans. Some estimates are as high as 2/3 of the population. The exact number of deaths couldn’t be measured because of the lack of information from de Medieval Age, but the number of deaths varied considerably by area and depending on the source. Current estimates are that between 75 and 200 million people died from the plague.

The term “Black Death” is recent. During the plague, it was called “the Great Mortality” or “the Pestilence. The Black Death followed a period of population growth in Europe which, combined with two years of cold weather and torrential rains that wiped out grain crops, resulted in a shortage of food for humans and rats. This caused people and animals to crowd in cities, providing an optimal environment for disease.

Most experts agree that the plague was caused by Yersinia pestis, a bacillus carried by  fleas that live primarily on rats that were common in medieval dwellings.

Since the 1980s, several researchers have blamed other diseases, including anthrax and typhus for the plague. The argument claims that other diseases spread more easily between people without the required flea vector and can display similar symptoms. Medieval doctors believed the plague had at least one of several causes. Many thought it was a punishment from God for the sins of the people.

After the Black Death, plague epidemics continued to ravage Europe. For example, London was struck by the Great Plague of 1665, with thousands of deaths. This plague was followed almost immediately by the Great Fire, leaving London devastated.

Plague continues to survive in the modern world, with Y. pestis foci in Asia, Russia, the American Southwest.

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