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What’s the Story? Bubonic Plague – is Back?

There’s been a bit of a stir in the press about the return of the Plague! Actually, it seems that this dreadful disease, which decimated populations in London and all over Europe in the 14th century and then again in t ...

There’s been a bit of a stir in the press about the return of the Plague! Actually, it seems that this dreadful disease, which decimated populations in London and all over Europe in the 14th century and then again in the 17th century, has never gone away – it has just been lying low.

Plague is an infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.  The symptoms of plague depend on the concentrated areas of infection in each person: bubonic plague in lymph nodes creates the big black buboes or boils as seen in the image above; septicemic plague in blood vessels and  pneumonic plague in lungs. It can be contracted by any of the following:

  • droplet contact – coughing or sneezing on another person
  • direct physical contact – touching an infected person, including sexual contact
  • indirect contact – usually by touching soil contamination or a contaminated surface
  • airborne transmission – if the microorganism can remain in the air for long periods
  • fecal-oral transmission – usually from contaminated food or water sources
  • vector borne transmission – carried by insects or other animals.

This little fellow was the cause of our historic pandemics – carrying the bacterium around and infecting black rats which infested the streets of London.

So many people died that they had to be buried in mass graves which became known as plague pits. Many plague pits from the 17th century have now been identified, including under what is now Golden Square in Soho and Islington Green too. It is believed that there is a huge pit in Queen’s Wood, as it is reputed that a mass of bones were found here during the 19th century –  although this has never been confirmed.
Above is an image created from the film Coven – filmed in Queen’s Wood, which plays on the presence of these bodies and a circle of 13 trees known as ‘the coven’. The wood was once known as Churchyard Bottom Wood before being  renamed after Queen Victoria in 1898 – so there might be some truth in the belief that bodies were brought up Highgate Hill on carts from the city and buried in the ecclesiastically named wood.
That was a long time ago – and these days the disease is treatable with antibiotics, if spotted in time. At the moment it seems that Madagascar has suffered a few deaths as have some of the countries nearby.
Probably worth checking out the latest advice if you are planning a winter holiday in the sun.

 

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