Bubonic plague is caused by a bacteria named Yersinia Pestis, but it was unnamed for most of it’s worst years, because who would believe tiny, invisible bugs killed so many? Sounds like superstition or a hair-brained conspiracy theory. Everyone knew plague was caused by Miasma, stinking air, sort of poison gas. Or maybe foreigners, vagabonds, or other outsiders deliberately destroying civilization. Or maybe civilization was being punished by God for it’s sins. We still react in all these ways: ignorance, bias and railing at God.
Plague, like that other scourge, Genghis Khan, originated on the sprawling, grassy flatlands sort of between Turkey and China. It lived in fleas infesting cute little ground squirrels, marmots, and of course, rats. The rat is the most intelligent, adaptive, and adventurous of the rodents, so he is the one who carried it via trade goods to various ports.
Rat fans (and I’ve had pet rats that were fascinating) scream, “It wasn’t the rat’s fault!” Of course it wasn’t; the animal was just doing what animals do-trying to stay alive and seeking new habitats. What the rat called Opportunity, we call London. The bacteria was just trying to stay alive, too. It neither noticed nor cared that humans were dying. Even the much bigger flea was just traveling along on the good ship Rat. Nothing personal, just business.
Plague swept across the world for hundreds of years, peaking about once in each generation. Europe was filthy by our standards, sewage and butchering scraps reeking in ditches by the road, many people crammed into one vermin-infested bed together. The air stank to high heaven, so they had evidence for Miasma.
It started with a flea bite, which then developed a red circle around it. “Ring around the rosy…pocket full of posies (to get rid of the stinky air) achoo, achoo, (the pneumonia version of plague) we all fall down (dead.) From bite to agonizing, disfiguring death only took a few days. It hit old and young and those in the prime of life, rich and poor and everyone in between.
The fatality rate was up to 70% of those infected. Think about that for a minute. Up to half the population of Europe was wiped out by some waves of plague, some villages completely depopulated. For perspective, coronavirus’ death rate is about 2%, mostly killing those already weakened, especially by breathing problems. So, no, corona virus is not the new plague, not even close. But it’s a good practice run for effectively handling some future threat,
So how are we doing? Ignorance, bias and railing at God? Yes. But maybe some geek in a laboratory with an open mind? Hope so.