The Black Death
The Black Death was undoubtedly one of the most devastating diseases
that occurred during the middle ages. The Black Death, also known as
the Bubonic Plague, was a world-wide epidemic that caused the death of
more than 20 million people throughout Europe (Velenzdas). The people
of this time period were clueless as to the cause of the plague, but
were well aware of the tell-tale symptoms that accompanied infection.
There were many "cures" for the outbreaks, however it is known that
only a small percentage proved successful. Although the Black Death is
deemed by many to be the most devastating pandemic in history, some
consider it to have ultimately led to the Renaissance by starting a
revolution in the arts and sciences (Cantor 22-23).
The Bubonic Plague is caused by the Yersina Pestis bacterium, which
commonly infected the rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, which also served
as its host (Velenzdas). Medieval Europe was a time of widespread
uncleanliness. Garbage was dumped onto the streets, water sources were
often polluted, all of which contributed to an overall unhealthy
environment. In the countryside, farmers often lived in dwellings that
also housed their livestock. Because of this, fleas were found nearly
everywhere in medieval Europe, infecting those they came into contact
with. The arrival of the Black Death completely shocked the entire
population of Europe. They attributed its cause to God's Will, because
of a simple lack of understanding of the role of fleas and hygiene in
the spread of the disease.
There were three stages of the Black Death. The first stage included
symptoms which were often flu-like in nature. This stage was
characterized by a high fever and the chills. The second stage of the
plague was marked by the appearance of the buboes, which were black,
painful sores that developed near the groin and armpits. It is from
these lesions that the name, Bubonic Plague, was derived from. In
addition to the buboes, there was also much diarrhea and vomiting,
which resulted in severe dehydration. The final stage, which often
resulted in death, was respiratory failure (Cantor 12). It was known
that infected humans would suffer a near 90 percent death rate in less
than one week following exposure (Velenzdas).
The people of medieval Europe used seemingly ridiculous cures in
attempts to rectify the many symptoms of the plague. Many people
sought the advice of "witches" and herbalists to cure a family member
of the illness. Very few of these...