Eyam and The Great Plague

The Black Death May Not Have Been Spread by Fleas!

/.A new theory has emerged that the plague may not have been spread by fleas! Some scientists now believe that the plague spread directly from human to human and thus did not involve fleas and rats.  It is now being questioned whether the bubonic plague was indeed the cause of 'the Black Death'. In fact what scientists now know about the modern plague, differs in many ways from what they know about 'the Black Death'. Now, a new study using bone and teeth taken from East Smithfield adds to mounting evidence taken from Black Death graves and hints at the true nature of the disease that wiped out more than a third of Europeans 650 years ago. 

The first suspected cause of the 'Black Death' was Yersinia pestis (the bubonic plague). It has been believed for many years that this is the correct cause. However, one problem with this theory is that  the outbreak of 'Black Death', spread much quicker than other cases of the disease Yersinia pestis. The black death arrived in europe in 1347, By about 1352, roughly five years later , it had not only spread across the continent, the worst of the disease had already ended. The modern day plague epidemic moved much slower from China in the mid nineteenth century, the plague only reached San Francisco in 1899. 

For the plague to spread from person to person, it first has to pass through fleas. You cannot catch bubonic plague from another person. According to Ken Gage, chief of flea-borne disease
activity with the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. ‘Once a flea bites a rat infected with plague, the pathogen Y. pestis grows in its gut. After about two weeks, the bacteria block the valve that opens into the flea's stomach. The starving flea then bites its host, by now probably a new, healthy rat or a person, more aggressively in an attempt to feed. All the while, the flea tries to clear out the bacterial obstruction and so regurgitates the pathogen onto the bite wounds.’ If this is to be believed it is very unlikely that the plague was spread by fleas due to the amount of time taken to infect a person.

Not only has the disease slowed down, it also seems to have become more restrained. The Black Death wiped out at least 30 percent of Europe's population at the time. But the peak of the modern pandemic, in India, killed less than 2 percent of the population, DeWitte has calculated from census data.

If these latest sources are to be believed, then what we have been led to believe about how the black death has been spread is incorrect. It is much more likely that the 'black death' was passed directly from person to person than through rats and fleas.  

Other alternative theories have been suggested as to how the 'black death' was spread around the world. The latest discovery comes just a year after another genetic study, led by Stephanie Haensch of Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, found evidence of two previously unknown strains of Yersinia pestis in the remains of European victims, and hints at a solution that could allow both theories to be right. "People have always assumed the two diseases were the same," said Cohn, the medieval historian, referring to modern plague and the Black Death. "Even if it is the same pathogen, the diseases are very different."  There are many other theories and people who have suggested how the 'black death' was spread, but we are yet to understand just how it spread so destructively.