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"Black Death" Plague 

- Also called the Great Mortality of the 14th century -

Summary: Pandemics of flea-transmitted Bubonic Plague, or "Black Death", have had an important impact on human history.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

What is The Plague?

The Plague (Bubonic Plague) refers to a pandemic disease caused by a bacterium that is transmitted to humans from rodents by the bite of a flea. The rat flea, (Xenopsylla cheopis) is the main vector of this pathogen.

The "Black Death" plague of central Asia and Europe between 1348 and 1352 is believed to have been caused by the flea-transmitted bacterium called Yersinia pestis. In addition to Black Death, this Plague has been called "Black Plague", "Bubonic Plague" and "The Great Mortality". There have been at least three Plague pandemics throughout history.

The Great Mortality by John Kelly (right) traces the Plague pandemic of the 14th century from its origins in central Asia through southern Europe into Great Britain then into northern Europe. Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease by Wendy Orent extends the discussion to how the Plague bacillus might impact us today and in the future.

The Great Mortality is a terrifically good account of the 14th century Plague pandemic. It is well written by a historian/science writer that has taken great care in getting the facts right. Then, Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease takes up the question "what does the presence of Yersinia pestis in the modern world mean for all of us today?" Did you know, for example, that both Plague, and the fleas that transmit it, are commonly associated with rodents in the western US even today?


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