Between the years of 1347 and 1350, terror raced across Europe as family members and loved ones died in considerable numbers from a painful and fatal disease. This gruesome plague became known as the Black Death and carried itself throughout all of Europe to make its presence known. Before this great tragedy, Europe had been secure with its mighty feudal kingdoms; cities had thick walls to protect people from invaders and any dangers they faced.
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The Churches were thriving and monumental Cathedrals were built everywhere. The economy was rising, and life in Europe was progressing as time marched on. This was all until the plague arrived. Before it was over, 25 to 40 million people died in Europe alone, and one out of every three people who contracted the disease died. In some cities, half of the population was destroyed, often leaving no one to bury the dead. Burial jobs were done quickly and poorly, which often resulted in wild animals digging up the corpses. In some towns, relatives had to carry dead family members out of their homes and stack them on carts, so the bodies could be hauled away and buried in mass graves. Today, people call the plague the Black Death because of the blackened skin of those who were infected. In the years that the disease was active, it was called the Great Mortality, or simply, the end of the world.
There were three different types of the plague, even though they are often lumped together and called the bubonic plague. The bubonic plague was the most common, and the most survivable, of the three types, as about 30 percent of those who got the bubonic type died. The bubonic plague was named after a symptom called buboes, which were blackened swellings on the neck, armpits, and other areas. The second type was called pneumonic plague. The pneumonic plague infected the lungs and was very contagious when victims coughed, and victims coughed continuously when infected, making it difficult not to get infected. The third type was called the septicemic plague, which is when blood is poisoned by bacteria or toxins they produce. The septicemic plague was less common but had a very high fatality rate all the same. Infection in all forms can be fatal unless treated immediately with antibiotics, such as streptomycin. According to PBS, mortality rates for treated individuals range from 1 percent to 15 percent for bubonic plague to 40 percent for the septicemic plague. In untreated victims, the rates rise to about 50 percent for bubonic and 100 percent for septicemia. The mortality rate for untreated pneumonic plague is 100 percent; death occurs within 24 hours.
The cause of the Black Plague was finally discovered in 1899, and it was an extremely harmful bacteria called Yersinia pestis.
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