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article imageFleas May Not Have Caused the Black Death

By unusualsuspect     Jun 1, 2007 in Science
"For centuries, rats and fleas have been fingered as the culprits responsible for the Black Death, the medieval plague that killed as many as two thirds of Europe’s population." But the disease may have had another cause.
"Experts now believe that the Black Death is more likely to have been a viral infection, similar to haemorrhagic fever or ebola, that spread from person to person."
A recently discovered archive of Dorset court records from the 14th century showed that about 50% of the people living in the area died of the Black Death, or bubonic plague, in the winter of 1348. Because rat fleas are dormant during cold weather, it's unlikely that they could have spread the disease.
Whatever the cause is finally determined to be, the bubonic plague decimated Europe and may even have contributed to climate change. So many people died that farms were abandoned and left to return to forest. From about 1500, almost to the 19th century, Europe experienced a Little Ice Age, suffering unusually cold winters. England's Thames River froze over, affecting the transportation of goods, and hundreds of thousands of people died during the severe winters.
Dr Thomas van Hoof and a team of researchers from Utrecht University, Netherlands, used pollen grains and leaf remains to determine the ups and downs of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over several centuries. Van Hoof believes that a sharp decrease in carbon dioxide occurred after 1350, caused by the reforestation of large tracts of land across Europe, and that this led to a cooling of the climate. The theory is still being debated, and some people aren't convinced. "Dr Tim Lenton, an environmental scientist from the University of East Anglia, UK, said: "It is a nice study and the carbon dioxide changes could certainly be a contributory factor, but I think they are too modest to explain all the climate change seen." "
Europe's chill linked to disease
More about Black death, Bubonic plague, Little ice age
 
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