How The Black Death Changed The Medical World

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The Black Death or the great plague, struck in 1347 and wiped out 50 million across Europe, 60% of the population was gone. The plague was caused by a bacterium named Yersinia Pestis, it is believed that the disease was likely spread from rodents to humans by the bite of infected fleas. The plague was an epidemic that wreaked havoc in Europe in 1347 and caused significant impacts on medical knowledge and treatments at the time. As there was limited knowledge resulting in an extremely high death toll but eventually the plague doctors began to not rely on what they had known but what they knew, for example instead of astrology and posies of herbs and strong-smelling flowers they began to realise how the plague was spreading and what not to do. In the middle ages medieval beliefs changed significantly due to the advancements in surgery, anatomy and sanitation. The treatments recommended by doctors at the time were rubbing onions, herbs and chopped up snake on buboes, drinking vinegar, eating crushed minerals, arsenic, mercury or decade old treacle, sitting close to a fire, flagellants whipped themselves, sitting in a sewer to drive out the fever or filling the victims’ house with herbs to cleanse the air. Thought the Black Death killed approximately a third of the people in the nations it touched, it ended half a century of religion-induced medical ignorance.

The black death was an epidemic that wreaked havoc in Europe in 1347 and caused significant impacts on medical knowledge and treatments at the time. The masks worn by the plague doctors were fashioned in their beak-like shape, the long beak provided comfortable breathing space to breathe in the herbs they put in their masks as they believed the disease was airborne, these being extremely different to what doctors wear today. At the time there was limited knowledge resulting in an extremely high death toll. But eventually the plague doctors began to not rely on what they had known but what they knew, for example instead of relying on astrology and posies of herbs and strong-smelling flowers they began to realise how the plague was spreading and what not to do, for example during the early stages people thought it was a punishment from god, so they went to church more therefore spreading the disease faster, they then realised just how contagious it was and started quarantining people. As the plague finally ended in 1351 millions had been killed after it had spread from Asia to Europe from 1347-1351 (Hall, 2009). These sources are useful as they informs about where the plague spread from, the death toll and the symptoms of the Black Death, it is reliable as there are detailed descriptions of everything that matches what I’ve found on multiple websites, stating that the facts are true and as is a textbook there have likely been many editors and fact-checkers. For the primary source I found the information from an authentic 16th century mask on display in the German Museum of Medical History.

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The symptoms of the Black Death began as early as the first few hours of infection for some and treatments weren’t yet reliable, making the chances of survival limited, (Mayo Clinic, 2019). The plague was the muse of many writers, poets and artists, Shakespeare included. A small mention of the plague appeared in Romeo and Juliet and played a larger part in the ending tragedy then it’s credited as it has been forgotten in most re-enactments, the Black Death was the reason Friar Laurence couldn’t get Juliet’s letter to Romeo to inform him of her plans to fake her death so they could go safely to Mantua. As there were 3 types of plague, bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic there were varying but similar symptoms. The Bubonic Plague began with a high fever, then the lymph glands of the victim began to swell, the third symptom is a variety of delusions and night terrors, next blackish-purple buboes start to appear in the groin and armpit areas, (Mayo Clinic, 2019). The Septicemic Plague started with abdominal pain and diarrhea which then lead to nausea and vomiting and fevers which then turned to bleeding resulting in the skin turning black from the internal bleeding, (Healthline, 2018). The Pneumonic Plague started off with breathing difficulty, chest pain and coughing resulting in fevers, headaches and overall weakness and then bloody scutum, (Healthline, 2018). These sources are dependable as the primary source was written by Shakespeare at the time of these events. The website sources are reliable and useful as again, they match my other research and the second and third were written by a qualified MD and provided detailed descriptions of the information.

Although this disastrous pandemic was the cause of excessive death tolls, it was also what lead to the medical knowledge we’ve gathered. We’ve learnt to do safe, successful surgeries and have discovered many useful medicines. The Black Death didn’t spare many but for those it did, it gave them a better life.

References:

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