What is a Plague? Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the plague.

  • Plague is a disease transmitted from animals infected with bacteria. It is often spread to humans by bites from infected fleas, although squirrels, rats and mice also carry the bacteria.
  • A plague is sometimes seen as a sign from God, such as the ten plagues the Egyptians suffered. These included frogs, boils, locusts and the death of the first born child.
  • The most famous plague was that which affected Europe from about 1346 to 1353. Also known as the Black Death, it killed at least 75 million people.
  • The disease probably started in Asia and was brought to Europe by rats on ships. It’s estimated that it had killed almost 60 percent of Europe’s population by 1353.
  • Symptoms included swollen arms and neck, bleeding, with blood often black in colour, a high fever and vomiting. Most people infected with the Black Death died within a week.
  • Because so many men had the plague, fields were not ploughed and there were food shortages. In 1381 the peasants in England revolted, partly because of the damage caused by the Black Death.
  • Another outbreak, the Great Plague, occurred in England in 1665. It killed over 100,000 people, many in London. The famous writer Samuel Pepys, wrote about the plague in his diary.
  • Many towns hired plague doctors, although often they had no real medical training. Part of their costume included a long beak or nose, filled with straw and pleasant smelling flowers.
  • The plague started to die down in 1666, the same year that much of London was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. When the city was rebuilt, changes were made to prevent plague and other diseases. For example, open sewers in the city were.
  • Some people believe that the well-known nursery rhyme Ring a Ring o’ Roses was written to describe the plague and its symptoms. The different versions of the song date back centuries.

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