Blackest plague of them all

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Blackest Plague of Them All


The bubonic plague, or black death as some know it, was first known of for over 3000 years. The plague is believed to have started in China. The very first outbreak was in the 1330's where the plague spreaded from rodent to rodent due to fleas carrying the disease. The plague was them caught by humans which it very quickly spread. Since China was a world center of trade many ships would carry the disease with them when leaving China. Several Italian merchant ships were believed to be the first carriers to Europe. When the ships arrived, in 1347, from China, the crew was already dieing from the disease. From there the disease spread very rapidly and had killed twenty-five million people by 1352. The worse was over, but the disease continued to haunt Europe for another 250 years until the 1600s. People had to live in constant fear of the plague and the plague led to many peasant revolts and people questioning their faith in God.


The rod-shaped bacterium called Yersinia pestis was discovered by a Swiss microbiologist, Alexandre Yersin. He had been working for the French Colonial Service in southern China when he had heard about a plague outbreak in Hong Kong. There he set up a lab and isolated the bacteria where he named it Pasteurella pestis because he had been trained at the Pasteur Institute. In the 20th century scientists renamed it to Yersinia pestis.


The plague started in China where it quickly spread because China was a world trade center. The plague traveled on trade routes and caravans. Its path of death was from south to north and east to west passing through Italy, France, England, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Finland, and eventually was found in Greenland.


The plague was very frequent in Asia and Europe up until the 1600s. The plague lasted in Europe for over 250 years. The disease was never actually stopped and an average of 1000-3000 people die each year from the disease. An average of 15 people die from it each year in the United States. There are still minor outbreaks across the world, but only 10 - 50 people die in each case.

Areas of the Body Infected & Symptoms

The area affected depends on which form of the plague you have.

Bubonic - This is the most common version which affects the arm pits, neck, and groin. It causes the lymph nodes to swell and in a bubbly form, hence the name Bubonic. Victims were subject to headaches, nausea, aching joints, fever of 101-105 degrees, vomiting, and a general feeling of illness. The mortality rate of this version was anywhere from 30% to 75%.

Pneumonic - This is the second most common version. It affected the lungs and caused the victim to cough up sputum. Sputum is saliva and mucus mixed and shot from the respitory system. As the victim got sicker blood was mixed with the sputum until the victim was coughing up pure blood. The mortality rate for this version was 90-95%.

Septicemic - The third and least common version of the plague. The reason was that most victims died before they could pass the disease to another place due to inefficient transportation of the time. This form would give the victim a high fever and turn the victim completely purplish-black within hours of the victims death. This was how the black plague got its name. Victims usually died the same day of contracting this form. The mortality rate was 99-100% of every person that contracted this form.


The first two forms of the plague, bubonic and pneumonic, were transferred by direct contact with an infected flea. The flea would get blood from an infected rat, then the disease would multiply in the fleas gut. The flea would become clogged and would find a human to inject the blood back into, and caused the human to become infected. The septicemic was transferred from the sputum that the infected would cough up. The droplets contained the bacteria and would attack a persons lungs directly after entering a healthy persons body.

Organism Description

The organism looks like little rods or capsule like structures. There appears to be tiny tiny cillia on it also. The plague is adapted to surround important cells in the body needed to kill of the bacteria. Since the cells cannot communicate the bacteria quickly over takes the body killing the person.


Many people had their thoughts of how to stop the plague before microbiology was discovered. Towns would ring bells thinking that sound could stop the plague. Most people made cloths to cover their mouths when going outside since they believed it was in the air. Others burned inscense thinking it came from smell. Some people even turned to magical potions and trinkets like a jade necklace. None of these treatments actually worked though. Some cities actually had plans that somewhat worked. Milan walled up houses found with the plague, isolating the sick from the healthy. Venice made all ships dock on a serperate island for quarintine. Either way, people still died but they numbers of dead in Milan and Venice were significantly lower then those cities that took no action. Pope Clement sat between 2 large fires to purify the air he had to breathe. The plague is destroyed by fire so this was one of the trully effective measures. Nowadays there are many anti-biotics that kill the plague as long as its caught in its early stages. Anti-biotics like streptomycin, chloramphenicol, or tetracycline can all stop the disease in earlier forms. Without treatment the mortality rate can be over 80%, even in todays worl

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