If you didn’t receive your education in a classroom under a rock, then it’s pretty likely you already know most major bubonic plague facts. It’s bacterial and communicable. It causes large sores, or "buboes" to appear around the lymph nodes. It decimated much of Eurpoe’s population in the Middle Ages. It is more than a little freaky. But there are some interesting things that you might not know about the bubonic plague. Besides being one of the most devastating diseases in history, these lesser known bubonic plague facts could raise your eyebrows a bit. So take a deep breath, hold it (because pneumonic plague spreads through the air), and read on.
- In the infamous “Black Death” epidemic, most of the blame falls on us. Sure, it’s true that the disease was originally spread by the bites of rats and fleas. But those infected animals would have stayed isolated if it weren’t for one thing – the Middle Ages’ budding economy. Had global trade ships not carried infected animals and people across the oceans, the bubonic plague may have never wiped out Europe. Additionally, people didn’t know exactly how to treat bubonic plague in those days. During the Black Death, people would often look to God for the answers to their horrific problem. How did they do so? By gathering the whole town together in a small church, basically ensuring that almost everyone would get infected. Sad as they are, these bubonic plague facts, unknown to people at the time, led to the untimely demise of millions.
- The bubonic plague is responsible for some of the creepiest stuff in Western culture. The iconic “beaked mask” seen often at western Carnival and Halloween celebrations originated with the bubonic plague. Doctors in the 1400’s wore the masks with a large overcoat to protect themselves from the “scent” of Bubonic Plague, which they in fact believed was the cause of its communicability. It is also held by many historians that the creepiest children’s rhyme of all time, “Ring Around the Rosy”, is actually one long reference to the Black Death. Phrases like “pockets full of posies” and “ashes, ashes” refer to ancient disease prevention techniques and burning of bodies infected with bubonic plague, respectively.
- The scariest of all bubonic plague facts is that it still exists. Every year, a couple thousand people become infected with bubonic plague as a result of exposure to diseased animals. Rats, fleas, and even cats are common carriers of the bacteria (Yersinia Pestis) that causes bubonic plague. Fortunately, there are effective antibiotics out there. In fact, the plague’s death rate is only about 15% at the highest. And it is a comforting for many that this mortality rate is significantly lower in developed countries. Regardless, it’s probably not a fantastic idea to play with a dead rat or let an extremely sick cat sneeze all over you.