Yersinia pestis infection historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Assistant Editors-In-Chief: Esther Lee, M.A.


It is suggested that Yersinia pestis infection was a contributing factor in some of (though possibly not all) the European plagues. The earliest account describing a possible plague epidemic is found in I Samuel 5:6 of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). In this account, the Philistines of Ashdod were stricken with a plague for the crime of stealing the Ark of the Covenant from the Children of Israel. These events have been dated to approximately the second half of the 11th century BC.

Historical Perspective

Plague has a remarkable place in history. For centuries, plague represented disaster for those living in Asia, Africa and Europe, where, it has been said, populations were so affected that sometimes there were not enough people left alive to bury the dead (Gross, 1995). Because the cause of plague was unknown, plague outbreaks contributed to massive panic in cities and countries where it appeared. The disease was believed to be delivered upon the people by the displeasure of the gods, by other supernatural powers or, by heavenly disturbance. Innocent groups of people were blamed for spreading plague and were persecuted by the panicked masses. Numerous references in art, literature and monuments attest to the horrors and devastation of past plague epidemics. So imprinted in the minds of people is the fear of plague that, even now, entering into the 21st century, a suspected plague outbreak can incite mass panic and bring much of the world's economy to a temporary standstill. The number of human plague infections is low when compared to diseases caused by other agents, yet plague invokes an intense, irrational fear, disproportionate to its transmission potential in the post-antibiotic/ vaccination era.


Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), French. The Plague of Ashdod, 1630. Oil on canvas, 148 x 198 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France, Giraudon/Bridgeman Art Library.

The earliest account describing a possible plague epidemic is found in I Samuel 5:6 of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). In this account, the Philistines of Ashdod were stricken with a plague for the crime of stealing the Ark of the Covenant from the Children of Israel. These events have been dated to approximately the second half of the 11th century BC. The word "tumors" is used in most English translations of the Bible to describe the sores that came upon the Philistines. The Hebrew language, however, can be interpreted as "swelling in the secret parts". The account indicates that the Philistine city and its political territory were stricken with a "ravaging of mice" and a plague, bringing death to a large segment of the population.

In the second year of the Peloponnesian War (430 BC), Thucydides described an epidemic disease which was said to have begun in Ethiopia, passed through Egypt and Libya, then come to the Greek world. In the Plague of Athens, the city lost possibly one third of its population, including Pericles. Modern historians disagree on whether the plague was a critical factor in the loss of the war. Although this epidemic has long been considered an outbreak of plague, many modern scholars believe that typhus,[1] smallpox, or measles may better fit the surviving descriptions. A recent study of DNA found in the dental pulp of plague victims suggests that typhoid was actually responsible.[2]

In the first century AD, Rufus of Ephesus, a Greek anatomist, refers to an outbreak of plague in Libya, Egypt, and Syria. He records that Alexandrian doctors named Dioscorides and Posidonius described symptoms including acute fever, pain, agitation, and delirium. Buboes—large, hard, and non-suppurating—developed behind the knees, around the elbows, and "in the usual places." The death toll of those infected was very high. Rufus also wrote that similar buboes were reported by a Dionysius Curtus, who may have practiced medicine in Alexandria in the third century BC. If this is correct, the eastern Mediterranean world may have been familiar with bubonic plague at that early date.[3][4]

Historically each Yersinia pestis biovar is associated with one plague pandemic:[5]

  • Biovar Antiqua - First or Justinian plague
  • Biovar Medievalis - Second or Black Death plague. Today is prevalent in the region of the Caspian Sea, being the cause of the modern plague.
  • Biovar Orientalis - Currently circulating in the Western hemisphere and Asia

Medieval and Post-medieval Pandemics

Local outbreaks of the plague are grouped into three plague pandemics, whereby the respective start and end dates and the assignment of some outbreaks to either pandemic are still subject to discussion.[6] According to Joseph P. Byrne from Belmont University, the pandemics were:

  • The first plague pandemic from 541 to ~750, spreading from Egypt to the Mediterranean (starting with the Plague of Justinian) and northwestern Europe[7]
  • The second plague pandemic from ~1345 to ~1840, spreading from Central Asia to the Mediterranean and Europe (starting with the Black Death), and probably also to China[7]
  • The third plague pandemic from 1866 to the 1960s, spreading from China to various places around the world, notably the US-American west coast and India.[8]

However, the late medieval Black Death is sometimes seen not as the start of the second, but as the end of the first pandemic – in that case, the second pandemic's start would be 1361; also vary the end dates of the second pandemic given in literature, e.g. ~1890 instead of ~1840.[6]

First Pandemic: Early Middle Ages (Plague of Justinian)

The Plague of Justinian in AD 541–542 is the first known attack on record, and marks the first firmly recorded pattern of bubonic plague. This disease is thought to have originated in China.[9] It then spread to Africa from where the huge city of Constantinople imported massive amounts of grain, mostly from Egypt, to feed its citizens. The grain ships were the source of contagion for the city, with massive public granaries nurturing the rat and flea population. At its peak the plague was killing 10,000 people in Constantinople every day and ultimately destroyed perhaps 40% of the city's inhabitants. It went on to destroy up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean.

In AD 588 a second major wave of plague spread through the Mediterranean into what is now France. It is estimated that the Plague of Justinian killed as many as 100 million people across the world.[10][11] It caused Europe's population to drop by around 50% between 541 and 700.[12] It also may have contributed to the success of the Arab conquests.[13][14] An outbreak of it in the AD 560s was described in AD 790 as causing "swellings in the glands ... in the manner of a nut or date" in the groin "and in other rather delicate places followed by an unbearable fever". While the swellings in this description have been identified by some as buboes, there is some contention as to whether the pandemic should be attributed to the bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, known in modern times.[15]

Second Pandemic: from 14th century (Black Death) to 19th century

"Der Doktor Schnabel von Rom" ("Doctor Beak of Rome"). The beak is a primitive gas mask, stuffed with substances (such as spices and herbs) thought to ward off the plague.
Map showing the spread of the Black Death (bubonic plague) in Europe during the 1347–1351 pandemic which is believed to have started in China and spread west, reaching the Black Sea by 1347

From 1347 to 1351, the Black Death, a massive and deadly pandemic originating in China, spread along the Silk Road and swept through Asia, Europe and Africa.[9] It may have reduced the world's population from 450 million to between 350 and 375 million.[16] China lost around half of its population, from around 123 million to around 65 million; Europe around 1/3 of its population, from about 75 million to about 50 million; and Africa approximately 1/8 of its population, from around 80 million to 70 million (mortality rates tended to be correlated with population density so Africa, being less dense overall, had the lowest death rate). This makes the Black Death the largest death toll from any known non-viral epidemic. Although accurate statistical data does not exist, it is thought that 1.4 million died in England (1/3 of England's 4.2 million people), while an even higher percentage of Italy's population was likely wiped out. On the other hand, Northeastern Germany, Bohemia, Poland and Hungary are believed to have suffered less, and there are no estimates available for Russia or the Balkans. It is conceivable that Russia may not have been as affected due to its very cold climate and large size, hence often less close contact with the contagion.

The plague repeatedly returned to haunt Europe and the Mediterranean throughout the 14th to 17th centuries.[17] According to Biraben, plague was present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671.[18] The Second Pandemic was particularly widespread in the following years: 1360–1363; 1374; 1400; 1438–1439; 1456–1457; 1464–1466; 1481–1485; 1500–1503; 1518–1531; 1544–1548; 1563–1566; 1573–1588; 1596–1599; 1602–1611; 1623–1640; 1644–1654; and 1664–1667; subsequent outbreaks, though severe, marked the retreat from most of Europe (18th century) and northern Africa (19th century).[19] According to Geoffrey Parker, "France alone lost almost a million people to plague in the epidemic of 1628–31."[20]

In England, in the absence of census figures, historians propose a range of preincident population figures from as high as 7 million to as low as 4 million in 1300,[21] and a postincident population figure as low as 2 million.[22] By the end of 1350, the Black Death subsided, but it never really died out in England. Over the next few hundred years, further outbreaks occurred in 1361–62, 1369, 1379–83, 1389–93, and throughout the first half of the 15th century.[23] An outbreak in 1471 took as much as 10–15% of the population, while the death rate of the plague of 1479–80 could have been as high as 20%.[24] The most general outbreaks in Tudor and Stuart England seem to have begun in 1498, 1535, 1543, 1563, 1589, 1603, 1625, and 1636, and ended with the Great Plague of London in 1665.[25]

In 1466, perhaps 40,000 people died of plague in Paris.[26] During the 16th and 17th centuries, plague visited Paris for almost one year out of three.[27] The Black Death ravaged Europe for three years before it continued on into Russia, where the disease hit somewhere once every five or six years from 1350 to 1490.[28] Plague epidemics ravaged London in 1563, 1593, 1603, 1625, 1636, and 1665,[29] reducing its population by 10 to 30% during those years.[30] Over 10% of Amsterdam's population died in 1623–1625, and again in 1635–1636, 1655, and 1664.[31] There were 22 outbreaks of plague in Venice between 1361 and 1528.[32] The plague of 1576–1577 killed 50,000 in Venice, almost a third of the population.[33] Late outbreaks in central Europe included the Italian Plague of 1629–1631, which is associated with troop movements during the Thirty Years' War, and the Great Plague of Vienna in 1679. Over 60% of Norway's population died from 1348 to 1350.[34] The last plague outbreak ravaged Oslo in 1654.[35]

In the first half of the 17th century, a plague claimed some 1.7 million victims in Italy, or about 14% of the population.[36] In 1656, the plague killed about half of Naples' 300,000 inhabitants.[37] More than 1.25 million deaths resulted from the extreme incidence of plague in 17th-century Spain.[38] The Great plague of 1649 probably reduced the population of Seville by half.[39] In 1709–1713, a The plague during the Great Northern War|plague epidemic that followed the Great Northern War (1700–1721, Sweden v. Russia and allies)[40] killed about 100,000 in Sweden,[41] and 300,000 in Prussia.[39] The plague killed two-thirds of the inhabitants of Helsinki,[42] and claimed a third of Stockholm's population.[43] Western Europe's last major epidemic occurred in 1720 in Marseilles,[34] in Central Europe the last major outbreaks happened during the plague during the Great Northern War, and in Eastern Europe during the Russian plague of 1770-1772

Worldwide distribution of plague-infected animals 1998

The Black Death ravaged much of the Islamic world.[44] Plague was present in at least one location in the Islamic world virtually every year between 1500 and 1850.[45] Plague repeatedly struck the cities of North Africa. Algiers lost 30,000–50,000 to it in 1620–21, and again in 1654–57, 1665, 1691, and 1740–42.[46] Plague remained a major event in Ottoman society until the second quarter of the 19th century. Between 1701 and 1750, 37 larger and smaller epidemics were recorded in Constantinople, and 31 between 1751 and 1800.[47] Baghdad has suffered severely from visitations of the plague, and sometimes two-thirds of its population has been wiped out.[48]

Nature of the Black Death

A hand showing acral gangrene of the digits due to plague, the black appearance of the necrotized tissue which occurs in gangrene, one of the symptoms of plague

In the early 20th century, following the identification by Yersin and Kitasato of the plague bacterium that caused the late 19th and early 20th century Asian bubonic plague (the Third Pandemic), most scientists and historians came to believe that the Black Death was an incidence of this plague, with a strong presence of the more contagious pneumonic and septicemic varieties increasing the pace of infection, spreading the disease deep into inland areas of the continents. It was claimed that the disease was spread mainly by black rats in Asia and that therefore there must have been black rats in north-west Europe at the time of the Black Death to spread it, although black rats are currently rare except near the Mediterranean. This led to the development of a theory that brown rats had invaded Europe, largely wiping out black rats, bringing the plagues to an end, although there is no evidence for the theory in historical records. Some historians suggest that marmots, rather than rats, were the primary carriers of the disease.[49]

The view that the Black Death was caused by Yersinia pestis has been incorporated into medical textbooks throughout the 20th century and has become part of popular culture, as illustrated by recent books, such as John Kelly's The Great Mortality. Many modern researchers have argued that the disease was more likely to have been viral (that is, not bubonic plague), pointing to the absence of rats from some parts of Europe that were badly affected and to the conviction of people at the time that the disease was spread by direct human contact. According to the accounts of the time the Black Death was extremely virulent, unlike the 19th and early 20th century bubonic plague. Samuel K. Cohn has made a comprehensive attempt to rebut the bubonic plague theory.[50] In the Encyclopedia of Population, he points to five major weaknesses in this theory:

  • Very different transmission speeds — the Black Death was reported to have spread 385 km in 91 days (4.23 km/day) in 664, compared to 12–15 km a year for the modern bubonic plague, with the assistance of trains and cars
  • Difficulties with the attempt to explain the rapid spread of the Black Death by arguing that it was spread by the rare pneumonic form of the disease — in fact this form killed less than 0.3% of the infected population in its worst outbreak (Manchuria in 1911)
  • Different seasonality — the modern plague can only be sustained at temperatures between 10 and 26°C and requires high humidity, while the Black Death occurred even in Norway in the middle of the winter and in the Mediterranean in the middle of hot dry summers
  • Very different death rates — in several places (including Florence in 1348) over 75% of the population appears to have died; in contrast the highest mortality for the modern bubonic plague was 3% in Bombay in 1903
  • The cycles and trends of infection were very different between the diseases — humans did not develop resistance to the modern disease, but resistance to the Black Death rose sharply, so that eventually it became mainly a childhood disease

Cohn also points out that while the identification of the disease as having buboes relies on accounts of Boccaccio and others, they described buboes, abscesses, rashes and carbuncles occurring all over the body, the neck or behind the ears. In contrast, the modern disease rarely has more than one bubo, most commonly in the groin, and is not characterised by abscesses, rashes and carbuncles.[15]

Researchers have offered a mathematical model based on the changing demography of Europe from 1000 to 1800 AD demonstrating how plague epidemics, 1347 to 1670, could have provided the selection pressure that raised the frequency of a mutation to the level seen today that prevent HIV from entering macrophages and CD4+ T cells that carry the mutation (the average frequency of this allele is 10% in European populations).[51] It is suggested that the original single mutation appeared over 2,500 years ago and that persistent epidemics of a haemorrhagic fever struck at the early classical civilizations.

However recent research published in the open-access scientific journal PloS Pathogens in October 2010 presented conclusive evidence that two previously unknown clades (variant strains) of Y. pestis were responsible for the Black Death.[52] A multinational team conducted new surveys that used both ancient DNA analyses and protein-specific detection to find DNA and protein signatures specific for Y. pestis in human skeletons from widely distributed mass graves in northern, central and southern Europe that were associated archaeologically with the Black Death and subsequent resurgences. The authors concluded that this research, together with prior analyses from the south of France and Germany,

"... ends the debate about the etiology of the Black Death, and unambiguously demonstrates that Y. pestis was the causative agent of the epidemic plague that devastated Europe during the Middle Ages."

The study also identified two previously unknown but related strains of Y. pestis that were associated with distinct medieval mass graves. These were found to be ancestral to modern isolates of the present-day Y. pestis strains 'Orientalis' and 'Medievalis', suggesting that these variant strains (which are now presumed to be extinct) may have entered Europe in two waves. Surveys of plague pit remains in France and England indicate that the first variant entered Europe through the port of Marseille around November 1347 and spread through France over the next two years, eventually reaching England in the spring of 1349, where it spread through the country in three successive epidemics.

However, surveys of plague pit remains from the Netherlands town of Bergen op Zoom showed evidence of a second Y. pestis genotype which differed from that found in Britain and France and this second strain is now thought to have been responsible for the pandemic that spread through the Low Countries from 1350. This discovery implies that Bergen op Zoom (and possibly other parts of the southern Netherlands) was not directly infected from England or France c. AD 1349, and the researchers have suggested that a second wave of plague infection, distinct from that which occurred in Britain and France, may have been carried to the Low Countries from Norway, the Hanseatic cities, or another site.[52]

Third Pandemic: 19th and 20th centuries

The Third Pandemic began in China's Yunnan province in 1855, spreading plague to all inhabited continents and ultimately killing more than 12 million people in India and China alone. Casualty patterns indicate that waves of this pandemic may have come from two different sources. The first was primarily bubonic and was carried around the world through ocean-going trade, transporting infected persons, rats, and cargoes harboring fleas. The second, more virulent strain was primarily pneumonic in character, with a strong person-to-person contagion. This strain was largely confined to Manchuria and Mongolia Researchers during the "Third Pandemic" identified plague vectors and the plague bacterium (see above), leading in time to modern treatment methods.

Plague occurred in Russia\ in 1877–1889 in rural areas near the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea. Efforts in hygiene and patient isolation reduced the spread of the disease, with approximately 420 deaths in the region. Significantly, the region of Vetlianka in this area is near a population of the bobak marmot, a small rodent considered a very dangerous plague reservoir. The last significant Russian outbreak of Plague was in Siberia in 1910 after sudden demand for Marmot skins (a substitute for Sable) increased the price by 400 percent. The traditional hunters would not hunt a sick Marmot and it was taboo to eat the fat from under the arm (the axillary lymphatic gland that often harboured the plague) so outbreaks tended to be confined to single individuals. The price increase, however, attracted thousands of Chinese hunters from Manchuria who not only caught the sick animals but also ate the fat, which was considered a delicacy. The plague spread from the hunting grounds to the terminus of theChinese Eastern Railway and then followed the track for 2,700 km. The plague lasted 7 months and killed 60,000 people.

The bubonic plague continued to circulate through different ports globally for the next fifty years; however, it was primarily found in Southeast Asia. An epidemic in Hong Kong in 1894 had particularly high death rates, 90%.[53] As late as 1897, medical authorities in the European powers organized a conference in Venice, seeking ways to keep the plague out of Europe. Mumbai plague epidemic struck the city of Bombay (Mumbai) in 1896. The disease reached the Territory of Hawaii in December 1899, and the Board of Health's decision to initiate controlled burns of select buildings in Honolulu's Chinatown turned into an uncontrolled fire which led to the inadvertent burning of most of Chinatown on January 20, 1900.[54] Shortly thereafter, plague reached the continental US, initiating the San Francisco plague of 1900–1904. Plague persisted in Hawaii on the outer islands of Maui and Hawaii (The Big Island) until it was finally eradicated in 1959.[55]

Although the outbreak that began in China in 1855 is conventionally known as the Third Pandemic, (see above), it is unclear whether there have been fewer, or more, than three major outbreaks of bubonic plague. Most modern outbreaks of bubonic plague amongst humans have been preceded by a striking, high mortality amongst rats, yet this phenomenon is absent from descriptions of some earlier plagues, especially the Black Death. The buboes, or swellings in the groin, that are especially characteristic of bubonic plague, are a feature of other diseases as well.

Research done by a team of biologists from the Institute of Pasteur in Paris and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany by analyzing the DNA and proteins from plague pits was published in Oct., 2010, reported beyond doubt that all 'the three major plagues' were due to at least two previously unknown strains of Yersinia pestis and originated from China. A team of medical geneticists led by Mark Achtman of University College Cork in Ireland reconstructed a family tree of the bacterium and concluded in an online issue of Nature Genetics published on 31 Oct., 2010 that all three of the great waves of plague originated from China. Europe’s Plagues Came From China, Study Finds.

Fundamental Works

The fundamental but separate works by Yersin and Kitasato in 1894 on the discovery of the etiologic agent of plague in Hong Kong opened the way for investigating the disease and how it is spread. Kitasato and Yersin described, within days of each other’s findings, the presence of bipolar staining organisms in the swollen lymph node (bubo), blood, lungs, liver and spleen of deadpatients (Bibel et al., 1976). Cultures isolated from patient specimens were inoculated into a variety of laboratory animals, including mice. These animals died within days after injection, and the same bacilli as those found in patient specimens were present in the animal organs. Though both investigators reported their findings, there were a series of confusing and contradictory statements by Kitasato that eventually led to the acceptance of Yersin as the primary discoverer of the organism now named after him, Yersinia pestis (Bibel et al., 1976). Yersin had recorded that rats were affected by plague not only during plague epidemics but also often preceding such epidemics in humans. In fact, plague was designated, in local languages, as a disease of the rats: villagers in China, India and Formosa (Taiwan) described that when hundreds and thousands of rats lie dead in and out of houses, plague outbreaks in people soon followed (Gross, 1995). The transmission of plague was described by Simond in 1898. He noted that persons who became ill did not have to be in close contact with each other to acquire the disease. In Yunnan, China, inhabitants would run away from their homes as soon as they saw dead rats. On the island of Formosa, residents considered handling dead rats a risk for developing plague. These observations led Simond to suspect that the flea might be an intermediary factor in the transmission of plague since people acquired plague only if they were in contact with recently dead rats and were not affected if they touched rats that were dead for more than 24 hours. Simond demonstrated that the rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) transmitted the disease in a now classic experiment in which a healthy rat, separated from direct contact with a recently plague-killed rat, died of plague after the infected fleas jumped from the first rat to the second.

Plague as a biological weapon

Plague has a long history as a biological weapon. Historical accounts from ancient China and medieval Europe detail the use of infected animal carcasses, such as cows or horses, and human carcasses, by the Xiongnu/Huns, Mongols, Turks, and other groups, to contaminate enemy water supplies. Han Dynasty General Huo Qubing is recorded to have died of such a contamination while engaging in warfare against the Xiongnu. Plague victims were also reported to have been tossed by catapult into cities under siege.

During World War II, the Japanese Army developed weaponised plague, based on the breeding and release of large numbers of fleas. During the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, Unit 731 deliberately infected Chinese, Korean, and Manchurian civilians and prisoners of war with the plague bacterium. These subjects, termed "maruta", or "logs", were then studied by dissection, others by vivisection while still conscious. Members of the unit such as Shiro Ishii were exonerated from the Tokyo tribunal by Douglas MacArthur but twelve of them were prosecuted in the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials in 1949 during which where some admitted having spread Bubonic plague within a 36-km radius around the city of Changde. [56]

After World War II, both the United States and the Soviet Union developed means of weaponising pneumonic plague. Experiments included various delivery methods, vacuum drying, sizing the bacterium, developing strains resistant to antibiotics, combining the bacterium with other diseases (such as diphtheria), and genetic engineering. Scientists who worked in USSR bio-weapons programs have stated that the Soviet effort was formidable and that large stocks of weaponised plague bacteria were produced. Information on many of the Soviet projects is largely unavailable. Aerosolized pneumonic plague remains the most significant threat. The plague can be easily treated with antibiotics, thus a widespread epidemic is highly unlikely in developed countries.

Worldwide distribution of plague infected animals 1998

1994 Epidemic in Surat, India

In 1994, there was a pneumonic plague epidemic in Surat, India that resulted in 52 deaths and in a large internal migration of about 300,000 residents, who fled fearing quarantine [57].

A combination of heavy monsoon rain and clogged sewers led to massive flooding which resulted in unhygienic conditions and a number of uncleared animal carcasses. It is believed that this situation precipitated the epidemic.[58]. There was widespread fear that the flood of refugees might spread the epidemic to other parts of India and the world, but that scenario was averted, probably as a result of effective public health response mounted by the Indian health authorities [59].

Much like the Black Death that spread through medieval Europe, some questions still remain unanswered about the 1994 epidemic in Surat[60].

Initial questions about whether it was an epidemic of plague arose because the Indian health authorities were unable to culture Yersinia pestis, but this could have been due to poor laboratory procedures[60]. Yet, there are several lines of evidence strongly suggesting that it was a plague epidemic: blood tests for Yersinia were positive, a number of individuals showed antibodies against Yersinia and the clinical symptoms displayed by the affected were all consistent with the disease being plague [61].

Other Contemporary cases

Two non-plague Yersinia - Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and Yersinia enterocolitica - still exist in fruit and vegetables from the Caucasus Mountains east across southern Russia and Siberia, to Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and parts of China; in Southwest and Southeast Asia, Southern and East Africa (including the island of Madagascar); in North America, from the Pacific Coast eastward to the western Great Plains, and from British Columbia south to Mexico; and in South America in two areas: the Andes mountains and Brazil. There is no plague-infected animal population in Europe or Australia.

  • On 31 August, 1984, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a case of pneumonic plague in Claremont, California. The CDC believes that the patient, a veterinarian, contracted plague from a stray cat. This could not be confirmed since the cat was destroyed prior to the onset of symptoms.[62]
  • From 1995 to 1998, annual outbreaks of plague were witnessed in Mahajanga, Madagascar as per a study done by Pascal Boisier and other scientists and publish in Emerging Infectious Diseases journal in March 2002.
  • In the U.S., about half of all food cases of plague since 1970 have occurred in New Mexico. There were 2 plague deaths in the state in 2006, the first fatalities in 12 years.[63]
  • In Fall of 2002, a New Mexico couple contracted the disease, just prior to a visit to New York City. They both were treated by antibiotics, but the male required amputation of both feet to fully recover, due to the lack of blood flow to his feet, cut off by the bacteria.
  • On 2 November 2007, Eric York, a 37 year old wildlife biologist for the National Park Service's Template:PDFlink and The Felidae Conservation Fund, was found dead in his home at Grand Canyon National Park. On 27 October, York performed a necropsy on a mountain lion that had likely perished from the disease and three days afterward York complained of flu-like symptoms and called in sick from work. He was treated at a local clinic but was not diagnosed with any serious ailment. The discovery of his death sparked a minor health scare, with officials stating he likely died of either plague or hantavirus, and 49 people who had come in to contact with York were given aggressive antibiotic treatments. None of them fell ill. Autopsy results released on November 9th, confirmed the presence of Y. pestis in his body, confirming plague as a likely cause of death.[71][72]

Literary and popular culture references




  1. Plague of Athens
  2. Papagrigorakis, Manolis J.; Yapijakis, Christos; Synodinos, Philippos N.; Baziotopoulou-Valavani, Effie (2006). "DNA examination of ancient dental pulp incriminates typhoid fever as a probable cause of the Plague of Athens". International Journal of Infectious Diseases. 10 (3): 206–214. doi:10.1016/j.ijid.2005.09.001. PMID 16412683.
  3. Simpson, W.J.
  4. Patrick, A.
  5. Koirala, Janak (2006). "Plague: Disease, Management, and Recognition of Act of Terrorism". Infectious Disease Clinics of North America. 20 (2): 273–287. doi:10.1016/j.idc.2006.02.004. ISSN 0891-5520.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Frandsen, Karl-Erik (2009). The Last Plague in the Baltic Region. 1709-1713. Copenhagen. p. 13.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Byrne, Joseph Patrick (2012). Encyclopedia of the Black Death. Santa Barbara (CA): ABC-CLIO. p. xxi.
  8. Byrne, Joseph Patrick (2012). Encyclopedia of the Black Death. Santa Barbara (CA): ABC-CLIO. p. xxii.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Wade, Nicholas (October 31, 2010). "Europe's Plagues Came From China, Study Finds". New York Times. Retrieved November 2, 2010.
  10. The History of the Bubonic Plague
  11. Scientists Identify Genes Critical to Transmission of Bubonic Plague
  12. An Empire's Epidemic
  13. Justinian's Flea
  14. The Great Arab Conquests
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Black Death". Encyclopedia of Population. 1. Macmillan Reference. 2003. pp. 98–101. ISBN 0-02-865677-6.
  16. Historical Estimates of World Population, U.S. Census Bureau
  17. "The Great Plague". Stephen Porter (2009). Amberley Publishing. p.25. ISBN 1-84868-087-2
  18. J. N. Hays (1998). "The burdens of disease: epidemics and human response in western history.". p 58. ISBN 0-8135-2528-4
  19. "Epidemics and pandemics: their impacts on human history". J. N. Hays (2005). p.46. ISBN 1-85109-658-2
  20. Geoffrey Parker (2001). "Europe in crisis, 1598–1648". Wiley-Blackwell. p.7. ISBN 0-631-22028-3
  21. The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study, Stuart J. Borsch, Austin: University of Texas
  22. Secondary sources such as the Cambridge History of Medieval England often contain discussions of methodology in reaching these figures that are necessary reading for anyone wishing to understand this controversial episode in more detail.
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