The Black Death Was Probably Airborne

PIC: "Beak Doctor" costume. (PD)

PIC: “Beak Doctor” costume. (PD)

There goes another historical “fact” into the waste bin. New evidence suggests that the Black Death was probably airborne and, thus, spread by coughs and sneezes instead of disease-harboring rat fleas.

Via Raw Story:

Now evidence taken from the human remains found in Charterhouse Square, to the north of the City of London, during excavations carried out as part of the construction of the Crossrail train line, have suggested a different cause: only an airborne infection could have spread so fast and killed so quickly.

The Black Death arrived in Britain from central Asia in the autumn of 1348 and by late spring the following year it had killed six out of every 10 people in London. Such a rate of destruction would kill five million now. By extracting the DNA of the disease bacterium, Yersinia pestis, from the largest teeth in some of the skulls retrieved from the square, the scientists were able to compare the strain of bubonic plague preserved there with that which was recently responsible for killing 60 people in Madagascar. To their surprise, the 14th-century strain, the cause of the most lethal catastrophe in recorded history, was no more virulent than today’s disease. The DNA codes were an almost perfect match.

According to scientists working at Public Health England in Porton Down, for any plague to spread at such a pace it must have got into the lungs of victims who were malnourished and then been spread by coughs and sneezes. It was therefore a pneumonic plague rather than a bubonic plague. Infection was spread human to human, rather than by rat fleas that bit a sick person and then bit another victim. “As an explanation [rat fleas] 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,” said Dr Tim Brooks from Porton Down, who will put his theory in a Channel 4 documentary, Secret History: The Return of the Black Death, next Sunday.

Keep reading at Raw Story.

23 Comments on "The Black Death Was Probably Airborne"

  1. kowalityjesus | Mar 30, 2014 at 11:33 pm |

    I’ve heard that the black death could have actually been a strain of ebola. What a terrifying, terrifying time. It’s when facts this big turn out to be misconstrued across history that one tends to wonder what else got lost in the woodwork.

    • Calypso_1 | Mar 31, 2014 at 1:09 am |

      Since the time that this alternative theory was proposed Y.pestis DNA has been positively identified in mass plague graves.

      • kowalityjesus | Mar 31, 2014 at 4:43 pm |

        Yeah but what if the sample chose statistical exceptions and everybody else died of Ebola? There’s always a chanson.

        • Calypso_1 | Mar 31, 2014 at 9:03 pm |

          how can you choose an exception when the whole purpose of sampling is to determine properties of the population?

          • kowalityjesus | Apr 1, 2014 at 5:48 am |

            I watched a documentary on youtube from the history channel or something about how the the black plague did not fit descriptions of bubonic plague exactly and how it was impossible to have been spread by rats. I didn’t notice the part in the article where they had narrowed the disease down using dna due to low batt. I was trying to hint of my facetiousness in my second comment by making an absurd last sentence.

          • Cortacespedes | Apr 1, 2014 at 11:10 pm |

            What if it was a “double whammy”?

            In the state where I live, we have quite a large population of white footed deer mice. These mouse populations are not only vectors for yersina pestis (thru their fleas of course) but they can also transmit hantavirus. Hantavirus being transmitted airborne by the disturbing of dust that contains their saliva, urine or fecal matter.

            Both of these are a problem in my state (particularly in the four corners region). I know someone personally who died from hantavirus. And not long ago, they closed a campground in Natural Bridges due to an outbreak of plague fleas on mice.

            Damned mousey multi-taskers!

          • kowalityjesus | Apr 2, 2014 at 3:33 am |

            I was just staying at somebody’s house who has a bit of a problem with moths. These things are freakin pernicious, eating ANY natural materials, laying eggs that incubate 30 months, larvae that blend in with whatever materials they ate… Coupled with incorrigible bed bugs, antibiotic resistant gonnorhea, and the like, it makes me mildly paranoid. I better count my lucky stars.

  2. trompe l'oiel | Mar 31, 2014 at 1:06 am |

    we tried to tell you… but no.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Mar 31, 2014 at 2:05 am |

    one thing the black death clearly shows
    large unexpected disasters happen from time to time
    150 years later
    Columbus brought the same plague to ghe Americas

    • kowalityjesus | Mar 31, 2014 at 4:41 pm |

      WAY more than 5 million. More like 30-90 million, as much as 90% of total population from all diseases. It started within a decade of contact and far outran any pioneers throughout the Americas. Fookin crazy! Where is the justice of God in virgin soil epidemics?

      • Well obviously they were heathens. God hates heathens.

        • God hates anybody who fights back.

          • kowalityjesus | Apr 1, 2014 at 5:59 am |

            …Who would be so heady to ignore his presence and blessings to disregard his will. Maybe I’m insane, but I seem to find it WAY easier than most people to begin to guess how indebted I am to the divine.

          • Maybe you’re insane, and maybe I’m a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction.

        • kowalityjesus | Apr 1, 2014 at 5:54 am |

          You can generally find a good reason why any given person sucks, but at least Christ showed us how not to suck.

          My theory is that its way less of a big deal to die or live miserably in this world than it is to exist miserably in the next, vice versa.

          • Yes, of course, Christ is SUCH a good example of how not to suck…

            Like when he condemns entire cities to death and the eternal torment of hell, _just because they didn’t care for his teaching_, in Matthew 11:20.

            Or when he urges people to reject and hate their own families in preference for loving him and him alone, in Luke 14:26, when he says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

            Or how about what a good example he sets for us all in how “not to suck” when the Pharisees criticise him for not washing his hands before eating. Does he wash his hands? No. Does he apologise? No. Instead he defends himself by turning around and attacking them instead, criticising them for not killing their disobedient children according to the commandment: “He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.” That one courtesy of good ol’ Matthew 15:4-7.

            And what’s interesting there is that his words DIRECTLY contradict his words in the afore-quoted Luke 14:26. If you don’t honour your parents you should be kileld and go to hell. No wait, if you don’t hate your parents you’ll go to hell. Err…

            You seem to be under some kind of bizarre “Lamb of God”/”Prince of Peace” delusion, wherein Jesus is some revisionist, happy-clappy do-gooder, as a warm, loving, family-friendly counterpart to the flat-out bloodthirsty insanity of the old testament God.

            But he isn’t is he? Not if you actually read your “Good Book”.

            Because then you’d find Christ saying things like:

            “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” in Matthew 5:17

            I’ll stop there, but let’s face it, I could quote examples of Jesus Christ being a bloodthirsty, irrational, psychotic, sociopathic, rude, self-centred hypocrite all day.

            Because it’s all there, in your precious bible.

            “… at least Christ showed us how not to suck.”? Yeah right. You might want to actually read the book, and not just cherry-pick the bits that suit your soft, feel-good interpretation.

          • kowalityjesus | Apr 2, 2014 at 3:26 am |

            save it

          • Fair enough.

            But for your sake I sincerely hope your “die or live miserably in this world” plan pays off, cos it’d be a shame to have otherwise wasted your entire sentient existence in this universe.

            Unless the Buddhists turn out to be right, of course, in which case you’ll get another spin on the ol’ wheel, so no harm done.

          • kowalityjesus | Apr 3, 2014 at 11:49 am |

            I don’t think misery is necessary, just a priority to a higher will, perhaps a graver, more saturnine weight to the matters surrounding one’s existence. I suggest reading my favorite book from the bible, Sirach, as a substitution for a large quote. I will give a small one and express appreciation for your well wishes!
            My child, from your youth choose discipline;
            And when you have gray hair you will finfd wisdom.

            Stand in the company of the elders;
            stay close to whoever is wise.
            Be eager to hear every discourse;
            let no insightful saying escape you.
            If you see the intelligent, seek them out;
            let your feet wear down their doorsteps!
            Reflect on the law of the Most High and let his commandments be your constant study. -Sirach6

  4. um i thought it was known that there were 3 plagues: the bubonic, the pneumonic, and…. i forget the third but your mother’s a whore

  5. Need to get ready?

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    1 part sage, dried
    1 part thyme, dried
    1 part lemon balm (melissa), dried
    1 part hyssop, dried
    1 part peppermint, dried
    1 handful garlic cloves
    apple cider vinegar

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