Bubonic plague, also known as Black death or just plague, was a devastating global epidemic that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-fourteenth century.
The origin of the plague is traced back to rumours about “Great Pestilence” that was killing people across the trade routes of the near and far East from Europe. In the early 1340s, the plague had struck China, India, Persia, Syria and Egypt.
It arrived in Europe when 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina in October 1347. People at the dock were horrified to discover most sailors aboard the ships were dead. Those who were alive were seriously ill and covered in black boils that ooze blood and pus.
Sicilian authorities immediately ordered the fleet of “death ships" out of the harbor but they were too late. The Bubonic plague killed more than 20 million people in Europe.
According to the World Health Organisation, the plague is caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria, which is usually found in small mammals and their fleas. The disease is transmitted among animals through their fleas. Humans can be infected by the bite of infected fleas, through direct contact with infected materials, or by inhalation.
Through the bite, the plague bacillus Y. pestis enters the body and travels to the nearest lymph node to replicate. This results in inflamed lymph nodes which can be tense and painful, and is called a bubo. In its advanced form, the inflamed lymph nodes can turn into suppurating open sores. However, WHO says Bubonic plague cannot be transmitted from human to human.
According to History.com, the Bubonic plague is thought to have originated in Asia over 2,000 years ago and was spread by trading ships. However, recent research has indicated the pathogen responsible for the Black Death may have existed in Europe as early as 3000 B.C.
However, with development in medical sciences, the plague is treatable through antibiotics and supportive therapy if patients are diagnosed in time. Laboratory testing is required to confirm infection which identifies the causative bacteria in a sample of pus from a bubo, blood or sputum.