Thursday, January 05, 2006

Black Death Was Not What We Thought

This is not new news but it’s something I just learned and something I bet most people don’t know. Many scientists are pretty sure that the disease known as Black Death was not the bubonic plague as previously believed. The symptoms described by 14th century writers are not entirely consistent with the plague and there simply were not enough rats (almost 0 outside the cities) to account for such rapid and devastating spread of the disease.

Most likely, the Black Death was something else. Something much more horrific that killed quickly and spread even faster. It took only 6 months to spread across what is now Great Britain.

The culprit? No one knows but it was almost certainly transmitted human-to-human (rather than flea to human) and could have been a kind of hemorrhagic fever like Ebola, only with a longer incubation and contagious period.

This kind of thing fascinates me. For one, it shows that what we hold as “truth” is not necessarily true—even if that’s what we’ve been taught for 100 years. But it also shows the greatness of science, that grand inquisitiveness that leads people to keep looking, keep studying and keep testing truths to make sure they are actually true.

Truly fascinating.


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