Black Death plague was spread by dirty humans, not rats

Federico Mansilla
Enero 16, 2018

Humans could have been responsible for the spread of the plague during the Black Death, a new study has suggested.

Scientists from the University of Oslo in Norway and the University of Ferrara in Italy now say they believe human "ectoparasites", such as body lice and human fleas, might be more likely to have caused the pandemic.

"While it is commonly assumed that rats and their fleas spread plague during the Second Pandemic, there is little historical and archaeological support for such a claim", the researchers note in their study.

An worldwide team of scientists from the University of Oslo and the University of Ferrara examined a number of characteristics of the pandemic including how it spread so quickly.

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They have tracked how the plague developed by using mortality data from nine plague outbreaks in Europe between the 14th and 19th centuries.

Rats have always been synonymous with plague, blamed carrying the parasites that spread disease and killed millions of people in Europe and Asia during the medieval period. Outbreaks still occur today, with an outbreak in Madagascar past year infecting more than 1,800 people. Symptoms include painful, swollen lymph nodes, called bubos, as well as fever, chills and coughing.

For the latest study, researchers created computer models of the pandemic, which they used to compare transmission by human parasites with transmission by rats and fleas and human-to-human transmission. The disease would be unlikely to spread as fast as it did if it were transmitted only by rats, the scientists said. "It is therefore crucial that we understand the full spectrum of capabilities that this versatile, pandemic disease has exhibited in the past".

Plague still exists; with the World Health Organisation charting 3.248 reported cases between 2010 and 2015, including 584 deaths.

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