The world has been plagued by diseases for hundreds of years. Europeans brought common illnesses to the Aztec civilisation, gave tainted sheets to the Native Americans and sick birds a couple of years back infected 4,000 people worldwide died from their flu. The truth is strains of common known infections can mutate and wreak havoc on a culture that doesn’t know what it is. So to scare you witless we shall take a look at the plagues that came along and strangely just disappeared.
Plague of Justinian
The Byzantine Empire was affected by the Pandemic in 541-542 AD. Historians believe the plague was brought by black rats hidden in the holds of ships delivering food and supplies from Egypt, thus infecting the grain and infecting all those that consumed the food. At the height of the infection, it was reported that over 10,000 people were dying in Constantinople per day and the streets were littered with the bodies of citizens. Historians predict almost a quarter of the Mediterranean (25 million people) died from the disease and it would resurface several times over the next three centuries.
This did not put off the Roman Emperor Justinian who, after years of preparing, wanted to push back his enemies, the Goths, and retake parts of Europe. The countryside was hit badly by the pestilence and this affected the supply of home-grown food. The Roman Armies were ultimately stopped by a lack of provisions and Justinian himself even contracted the disease.
What is interesting is that scientists have worked to discover the origin of the plague and yet find no logical explanation for its appearance at the time. The strain was descended from the Yersinia pestis, that was the granddaddy to mutations of the bubonic plague and other violent diseases, but because of the lack of documentation and reports on the strain the relevant facts to its appearance go unknown.
The world had been ravaged by the First World War and was on the road to recovery when a flu outbreak hit Europe. This flu was very interesting and baffled doctors and the medical community when it first appeared as unlike previous diseases that killed the young and old, those with weak immune systems, as the main victims seemed to be the fittest, strongest and most likely to be immune. It was discovered that the reason that the strongest died first was because the flu targeted the victims’ immune system and literally overworked it causing the patients to catch common or harsh infections.
Terrifyingly the pandemic lasted only a year, but managed to kill around 50 million people. At the time this accounted for almost 3% of the World’s population and everywhere was a target. Reports of the flu symptoms reaching as far as Antarctica led many to believe that the epidemic would become worse than the Black Death.
The name originated from Spain, who had a more liberal press, therefore they reported on the incident far more than the allies who didn’t want to create a panic.
Luckily in 1918 the rate of deaths grounded to a halt. The medical community was interested to see why such a virulent and dangerous disease could disappear overnight and some speculate that doctors just got better at treating the common infections that were brought on by the flu.
The Black Death
Now we get to the bad boy of diseases. The Black Death was the worst pandemic to hit Europe and it was estimated that around 30 to 60% (almost 120 million) of the population was killed. The disease was carried by fleas on the back of black rats that spread from central Asia and moved up through Europe and to the UK.
The symptoms included giant pulpous growths in the groinal region, arm pits or the throwing up of blood. The infrastructure of cities at the time meant that populations lived close together and so the spread of the plague was rapid.
Most interestingly about the Black Death is that there was no cure at the time and yet the plague disappeared. It was the deadliest plague in our history and even now scientists are intrigued about how little we know about it. Recently they have fund strains of the plague in old teeth and are looking to recreate the strain to study it further. As with any scientific experiment it has its pros and cons, however the main problem is that with the Earth’s population increased to 7 billion in the last 2 years, it is the perfect breeding ground for an ancient pandemic that we know nothing about.