How Did the Bubonic Plague, the Last Pandemic, Come to an End?

·3-min read

Throughout the history of human civilisation, several pandemics have occurred and left a lasting impact. Besides Ebola virus and HIV AIDS, the coronavirus pandemic is the most devastating medical disaster of the twenty-first century. However, history has shown how our ancestors faced similar epidemics. One such pandemic that continues to find its mention even today is the Bubonic plague also known as the Black Death. The Bubonic Plague struck Europe and Asia in the fourteenth century. In October 1347, 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina and so the plague arrived in Europe. People who gathered on the docks witnessed a horrifying sight as most sailors aboard the ships were dead. Those who were still alive were critically ill and covered in black boils that oozed blood and pus. To protect its population, the Sicilian authorities immediately ordered the fleet of so-called "death ships" out of the harbor. However, it was too late as the infection was highly contagious and already left its carriers in the local population. The Black Death ravaged through Europe over the next five years, and killed more than 20 million people in the continent which accounted for nearly one-third of the continent's population.

According to the World Health Organisation, the bubonic plague is caused by bacteria called Yersinia pestis that is mainly found in rodents and their fleas. The name of the disease stems from the symptoms it causes which is painful, swollen lymph nodes also known as ‘buboes’ in the groin or armpit.

So how did such a contagious pandemic go away?

There were rudimentary and even superstitious treatments practiced by the physicians of the time. Practices that were dangerous as well as unsanitary like bloodletting and boil-lancing were performed on patients. Some superstitious practices included burning of aromatic herbs and bathing in rosewater or vinegar. Lack of scientific development also meant that Black Death was considered as a kind of divine punishment for sins against God. Hence this also led many people to delve into brutal practices purging their communities of rebels and other criminals.

However, some sense did prevail among the medical experts of those days who understood that the disease was spreading through proximity. With this discovery, the concept of quarantine was introduced. According to History, officials in Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa decided to keep newly arrived sailors in isolation until they could prove they were not carrying the infection. Sailors were asked to stay on their ships for 30 days, which under the Venetian law came to be known as a trentino. The law was later modified and the compulsory isolation was increased to 40 days known as quarantino. This is how the word quarantine was coined and its practice was adopted in the Western world. The year 2020 saw a revival of this practice and usage in everyday language as coronavirus pandemic spread throughout the world.

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