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The Modern Day Black Death and Bubonic Plague

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Modern day symptoms, cure and medical treatments of the plague

Is the Black Death, or plague, still with us today?
We tend to assume that this is not a present day disease, however we are mistaken. The answer to whether the disease is with us today is Yes, but very few. About 10 to 20 people contract the each year in the USA. Our main defence against the disease is hygiene. Our modern sewage systems and Public Health organisations keep this plague to a minimum. Additional sections are available on Bubonic Plague / Black Death in the Elizabethan era and World History. This section concentrates on the disease in the modern day.

Three ways of killing people
The Black Death  (So called because of the Visual Symptom of the Bubonic Plague). There are three types of the plague or the Black Death...

  • The Bubonic Plague is by the bacillus yersinia pestis (this is where the word pestilence is derived) carried by fleas and transmitted normally by rodents. The bacillus is extremely virulent. Laboratory mice die after being infected with just three bacilli – and fleas can disgorge up to 24,000 in one bite. Whilst rats were the most common carriers in medieval times other rodents, such as squirrels , have transmitted the disease in advanced Western countries, such as the USA in recent years. The plague is transmitted by the rodent buy the flea. The disease, when caught this way, travels through the lymph system causing the lymph glands to swell the lymph nodes and discolour and turn a black color - hence the descriptive name Black Death. The areas normally affected are the armpits and the groin. Modern antibiotics have a good chance of combating the disease but there is still a high mortality rate unless treated early. It has a 1-15% mortality rate in treated cases and a 40-60% mortality rate in untreated cases. 
  • The Septicemic Plague : This is in fact the same disease but when infected the patient gets the bacilli in the bloodstream as opposed to the lymph system. When this occurs it is nearly always fatal causing massive damage to the blood and the circulation system. The result is that parts of the body, normally the extremities, lose the blood supply, become gangrenous and go black. Septicemic plague (primary or secondary) has a 40% mortality rate in treated cases and 100% mortality in untreated cases.
  • The Pneumonic Plague : Yet again this is the same disease but in this instance is caught by breathing the disease from a contaminated animal or human. It rapidly damages the lungs and results in nearly a 100% mortality rate, even with today's medical knowledge,  if not treated 
    within the first 24 hours of infection.

The Modern Treatment and Cure of the Bubonic Plague (aka Black Death )
When an occasional case arises (normally of the Bubonic variety) Health Authorities will isolate the patient, trace their movements and destroy the rodent population responsible for the outbreak. This is easily done today but was virtually impossible in the 14th Century. Other events were required to stop the spread of the disease such as the Great Fire of London in 1666. In 1932, with sulphonamide drugs, there was finally an effective treatment for the plague. There is a vaccine, but because it takes several weeks to become effective, it would be of little use during an epidemic. 

The Memories of the Black Death and Bubonic Plague live on...

Sinister Nursery Rhyme!
A section on the deadly disease would not be complete without referring to the children's nursery rhyme "Ring around the rosy". Most of us know and love this Nursery Rhyme which has been passed down through the ages.  Understanding the origins and history of this Nursery Rhyme, and how this is connected to the deadly illness, will make our early perception of an innocent child's rhyme take on a completely different and sinister meaning. The words to the Ring around the rosy children's ring game have their origin in English history . The historical period dates back to the great plague (also known as Black Death) of London in 1665. The symptoms of the disease included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin (Ring around the rosy). Pockets and pouches were filled with sweet smelling herbs ( or posies) which were carried due to the belief that the disease was transmitted by bad smells. The term "Ashes Ashes" refers to the cremation of the dead bodies! The death rate was over 60% and the plague was only halted by the Great Fire of London in 1666 which killed the rats which carried the disease which was transmitting via water sources.

The English version of "Ring around the rosy" replaces Ashes with (Atishoo, Atishoo) as violent sneezing was another symptom of the disease.

Ring around the rosy
A pocketful of posies
"Ashes, Ashes"
We all fall down!

Our thanks to for allowing us to reproduce this information on this section. We would recommend this site for any interested in the history and origins of William Shakespeare. Of special interest to the Tudor period of history will be the rhyme " Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" - you won't believe what this innocent little rhyme refers to!

Another Lasting Reminder of the Bubonic Plague and The Black Death in England...
In some towns and villages in England there are still the old market crosses which have a depression at the foot of the stone cross. This depression was filled with vinegar during times of Black Death (or Bubonic Plague) as it was believed that vinegar would kill any germs on the coins and so contain the disease. There are many areas in London where building is prohibited - these areas used to be the Plague pits and contain the remains of victims. To this day there are still fears of re-awakening this deadly virus in London. 

World History of the Black Death and Bubonic Plague - How the disease spread and Nationalities affected
The Black Death / Bubonic Plague - Symptoms, effects, cures and treatments in Elizabethan London
The Modern Day Black Death and Bubonic Plague
Modern day symptoms, cure and medical treatments of the plague
William Shakespeare Index
Plague / Black Death Index

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