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The Black Death

Sep 2, 2011, 2:30 PM

The Twenty first century, an era of rapid and massive development in all areas ranging from biomechanics to astronomy and advanced medicine with inventions and procedure that would have been un-imaginable and unbelievable not too far back in the past, a past where many people have died from diseases which can be cured quite easily today. Complaints that once were quite common have now almost entirely disappeared. And yet in the field of medicine, even up to this day, there is a lot that still baffles doctors and scientist, one of which being Cancer, (a malignant tumor or growth caused when cells multiply uncontrollably, destroying healthy tissue. The different forms are sarcomas, carcinomas, leukemia, and lymphomas). Yet research is still being undertaking and treatments such as chemotherapy (the use of chemical agents to treat diseases, infections, or other disorders) are being utilized with proven successes.

However in the middle ages things were very different because no one knew who or what was responsible for the spread of most deadly infection. A lot of the people back then looked upon disease and suffering as something to be endured like the rain and thunder. So whenever an epidemic broke out, a lot of people suffered and there was usually not much that could be done for victims.

During the middle ages, two diseases were widespread in Europe. These were leprosy (which is still common in this era) and the pest of plague. Horrible though it was, the leprosy which afflicted many people in Britain then was not the true leprosy that we know today. In fact sadly enough, some individuals some were thought to be lepers when they were suffering from an entirely different kind of skin complaint or complication, it is recorded.

Lepers had a dreadful time as they still do today.They were forced to live in abodes outside and away from the general settlements and stigmatized due to the inherent gear by those not plagued by it, of catching it. It is believed that the victims had to wear garments in shades of dark grey or brown and carry a bell or clapper to sound as a warning to others that they were approaching. And they were prayed for indeed, but not in the hope of their recovery, but rather for the saving of the souls that were deemed lost.

The plague was greatly feared in the middle ages and of all of them, by far possibly the most frightening  and deadly was that which engulfed Europe in the 1340’s, the Black Death. Believed to have originated from China in Asia, it got to Euro via the trade canal through merchants and seamen, arriving first in Dorset and over the subsequent sixteen months, spreading its devastatingly deadly tentacles over the width of Britain.

The plague was called the Black Death because of the purple, brown or black spots which appeared under the skin of the sufferer and death was almost certain within three to four days. Other ghastly symptoms of the disease were reddening of the eyes, sores on the tongue and mouth, raging pains and hard, black swellings in the armpits, the groin and behind the ears.

The Black Death was a bubonic plague, named for the hard swelling that was its result. Medics could not cope with it. Strange ‘cures’, including a medicine made from chopped snakes mixed with treacle and by placing a frog or a spider near the sufferer to ‘draw out the poison’ were administered. Yet the situation seemed hopeless. All who were not infected were advised to go as far away from the pandemic zone as was possible, because no one could fathom the cause or the cure, not even the doctors.

Bubonic plague is a disease of rats. The virus of the Black Death lodged mainly in the bodies of the black rats and there was no shortage of those in the middle ages. It was not the rats, however, which spread the infection to human beings but the fleas which lived on the rats. When the rats died, it was easy for the fleas to transfer themselves to human beings. The disease was passed on by the bites of the fleas. Humans as well as animals were often the flea-ridden and the hovels of the poor, especially, harbored vermin of all kinds. More poor people , therefore, died of the plague than those who were better off, although the black death spread so rapidly that all classes of people suffered badly A lot of faithful men, priests and monks were sadly infected as they chose to stay by the dying while comforting them rather that save themselves by fleeing. .

About an astonishing one-third of the people in Britain died of the Black Death, with an estimated twenty thousand in London alone. Except for those carrying the corpses for burial, the streets of London were empty because people were afraid of getting near anyone who had caught the disease. Some even thought that they could catch the disease if someone who had it just stared at them they really believed that ‘looks could kill’.

Crops were left to rot in fields and animals dropped dead as the famers who had not died as a result of this epidemic fled. Plagues broke out several times in Britain after1349, the worst being the Great Plague of 1665, but none of them devastated the whole country and continent as the Black Death, one of the most devastating pandemics in the history of the human race.