April 1, 2014

The Black Death was a Pneumonic Plague Spread by Coughing say scientists

The Bubonic Plague of 1348 was actually a pneumonic plague

RATS and fleas have been unfairly implicated in the spread of the Black Death, according to scientists studying the remains of Londoners who died in the 14th century.

Around 60 per cent of people living in the capital died at the peak of the Black Death pandemic, which arrived in England from central Asia in 1348. But, following excavations of medieval graves in the course of Crossrail construction works, scientists now believe that a death rate of such magnitude would only have been possible if the plague had been airborne.

Skeletons dug up in Charterhouse Square, just north of the City of London, still contained the DNA of the bacterium responsible for the plague: Yersinia pestis. Researchers compared this DNA with that from a strain of the plague which recently killed 60 people in Madagascar. They found the medieval strain was no more virulent than the modern strain.

However, scientists now believe the only way that the Black Death could have killed so many people in 1348 was if it was actually a pneumonic plague – an airborne version of the disease which can be spread from person to person through coughing.

Dr Tim Brooks from Public Health England at the Porton Down research facility has a theory. Speaking of rats and fleas, Dr Brooks told the Guardian: "As an explanation for the Black Death in its own right, it simply isn't good enough. It cannot spread fast enough from one household to the next to cause the huge number of cases that we saw during the Black Death epidemics."

Scientists believe the poor health of the population of London was also a factor in the high death rate. The skeletons in Charterhouse Square showed evidence of rickets, anaemia and childhood malnutrition.

Skeletons  reveal Black Death Secrets

Skeletons dug up in London last year are indeed the remains of people who died from the Black Plague—and who suffered a tough life before falling ill, the BBC reports. Forensic analysis shows that teeth taken from at least four of the 12 corpses discovered during excavation for a rail line contained trace amounts of plague DNA, indicating exposure. Early burials found at the site, from the late 1340s, are nice and orderly, with bodies wrapped in white shrouds, but skeletons from a second outbreak in the 1430s are tossed in with what appear to be upper-body injuries—evidence of "a period of lawlessness and social breakdown." …Several skeletons suffered from malnutrition and 16% had rickets. Many had back damage, signalling stressful manual labor.
Posted by Jill Fallon at April 1, 2014 10:17 AM | Permalink