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Black Death spread by humans, vindicating rats

One of the worst pandemics in human history, the Black Death, along with a string of plague outbreaks that occurred d...

Posted: Jan 16, 2018 12:21 PM
Updated: Jan 16, 2018 12:21 PM

One of the worst pandemics in human history, the Black Death, along with a string of plague outbreaks that occurred during the 14th to 19th centuries, was spread by human fleas and body lice, a new study suggests.

It was previously suggested that rodents, whose fleas can also transmit the bacteria behind the plague, were the main culprits behind Europe's second pandemic of the disease that saw a string of outbreaks occur in succession.

Plague is caused by infection with the bacterium Yersinia pestis

More than 1,800 people were infected with the plague last year

Plague is caused by infection with the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is typically spread through the bite of infected fleas, frequently carried by rats, causing bubonic plague. Symptoms include painful, swollen lymph nodes, called bubos, as well as fever, chills and coughing.

Pneumonic plague is more virulent or damaging and is an advanced form characterized by a severe lung infection. The infection can be transmitted from person to person via airborne droplets -- coughing or sneezing. Outbreaks still occur today, with an outbreak in Madagascar last year infecting more than 1,800 people.

To understand the historic outbreak, scientists from the University of Oslo modeled the three transmission routes for the disease -- rats, airborne and human fleas and lice -- using mortality data for nine outbreaks that spanned the time period of the second pandemic. Their analysis found that human ectoparasites, such as fleas, reflected the death trends most accurately.

The model outcomes therefore suggest the spread of the plague back then was mainly attributable to human fleas and body lice, according to the study published Monday.

"Our results support that human ectoparasites were primary vectors for plague during the Second Pandemic, including the Black Death," the authors write.

This challenges "the assumption that plague in Europe was predominantly spread by rats," they added.

"This study uses mathematical modeling to try and determine how exactly the plague spread in Europe during the pandemic known as the 'Black Death'," said Raina MacIntyre, professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, who was not involved in the study.

"Most naturally occurring plague is bubonic (affecting the lymph nodes, rather than the lung). Studies like this can help better understand rapid transmission of plague, which then points to the most suitable control measures."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 293542

Reported Deaths: 6638
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19560229
Hinds18674385
Harrison16512276
Rankin12595262
Jackson12451217
Lee9663160
Madison9400195
Jones7891145
Forrest7140136
Lauderdale6784225
Lowndes6008137
Lamar584480
Lafayette5707113
Washington5159128
Bolivar4594120
Oktibbeha439991
Panola426892
Pearl River4116128
Warren4114113
Pontotoc407368
Marshall399492
Monroe3980126
Union392873
Neshoba3767166
Lincoln3464100
Hancock339973
Leflore3358118
Sunflower317185
Tate300874
Pike298393
Scott292567
Alcorn290360
Itawamba288871
Yazoo283862
Tippah275665
Copiah274557
Coahoma272766
Simpson271778
Prentiss268658
Leake251770
Wayne251340
Marion250778
Covington247878
Grenada245876
Adams233277
George230645
Newton224751
Winston220275
Jasper211844
Tishomingo211765
Attala206269
Chickasaw200650
Holmes181670
Clay178149
Stone171429
Tallahatchie169839
Clarke168671
Calhoun156428
Smith151831
Yalobusha142936
Greene126833
Walthall123540
Noxubee122729
Perry121434
Montgomery121237
Lawrence119321
Carroll117623
Amite110832
Webster109929
Jefferson Davis100531
Tunica98623
Claiborne97729
Benton93124
Humphreys91626
Kemper89522
Quitman77014
Franklin75519
Choctaw69516
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson61427
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 491110

Reported Deaths: 9831
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson706291356
Mobile35894721
Madison32255442
Tuscaloosa23996409
Montgomery22462494
Shelby21820215
Baldwin19670274
Lee14900150
Morgan13599249
Calhoun13175285
Etowah13143319
Marshall11226206
Houston10048259
Elmore9337183
Limestone9335134
Cullman8869179
St. Clair8783220
Lauderdale8581210
DeKalb8429174
Talladega7481163
Walker6504251
Jackson6477102
Autauga620389
Blount6086125
Colbert5978118
Coffee5230102
Dale4621106
Russell401831
Franklin397876
Covington3956106
Chilton384298
Escambia377172
Tallapoosa3572141
Clarke342949
Dallas3397141
Chambers3392108
Pike293071
Lawrence281384
Marion280894
Winston246166
Bibb244260
Geneva238670
Marengo233354
Pickens223954
Barbour209951
Hale208868
Fayette199756
Butler195165
Henry182041
Cherokee176438
Monroe165938
Randolph163140
Washington156634
Crenshaw143554
Clay143354
Macon140943
Cleburne136839
Lamar131732
Lowndes130648
Wilcox120825
Bullock116336
Conecuh106523
Perry105327
Sumter98431
Coosa87823
Greene87032
Choctaw54823
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