The Black Death

4 minutes to read | Updated for 2019

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The Black Death came in three forms: the bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. Each different form of plague killed people in a vicious manner. All forms were caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis.

The most commonly seen form was the bubonic plague. The mortality rate was 30-75%. Its symptoms were enlarged and inflamed lymph nodes (around arm pits, neck and groin). The term ‘bubonic’ refers to the characteristic bubo, or enlarged lymphatic gland. Victims were subject to headaches, nausea, aching joints, vomiting, fever of 101-105 degrees, and a general feeling of illness. Symptoms took from two to seven days to appear.

The pneumonic plague was the second most commonly seen form of the Black Death. The pneumonic and the septicemic plague were probably seen less then the bubonic plague because the inefficiency of transportation meant victims often died before they could reach other places. The mortality rate for the pneumonic plague was 90-95% (If treated today, the mortality rate would be 5-10%.) The pneumonic plague infected the lungs. Symptoms included slimy sputum (saliva mixed with mucus exerted from the respiratory system) tainted with blood. As the disease progressed, the sputum became free-flowing and bright red. Symptoms took one to seven days to appear.

The septicemic plague was the rarest form of all. Its mortality was close to 100%, and even today, there is no treatment. Symptoms were a high fever and skin turning deep shades of purple due to DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation). According to Dr. Matt Luther of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, “The plague often caused DIC in severe forms, and DIC can be fatal. In its most deadly form, DIC can cause a victims skin to turn dark purple. The Black Death got its name from the deep purple, almost black, discoloration.” Victims usually died the same day symptoms appeared. In some cities, as many as 800 people died every day.

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