A Tale Of Two Plagues

Written by Andrew Linn on March 16, 2020

With the Coronavirus outbreak spreading from region to region, one should realize that this pandemic is (hopefully) mild in comparison to two outbreaks from the past: the Black Death of the Fourteenth Century and the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919.

The Black Death of the Fourteenth Century, which killed nearly half of Europe’s population (in addition to millions of others in Asia and North Africa) took two forms- bubonic and pneumonic. The bubonic form was transmitted by a bacteria known as Pasteurellas pestis, which resided in fleas, which in turn resided in black rats and other rodents. The pneumonic form was transmitted from person to person.

It is possible that black rats travelled by ship to Europe, thus introducing the plague to that continent. It is also possible that merchants and soldiers inadvertently brought the plague to Europe via the various caravan routes leading to the Crimea region.

The plague is also said to have been introduced to Europe via merchants fleeing the city of Caffa (now Feodosia) in the Crimea, which in 1347 was being besieged by the Tatars. The Tatar commander, whose army was being decimated by the plague, launched the heads of the soldiers who had died from the plague into Caffa via catapult, thus spreading the plague to that city. The merchants had fled the city, but not before they had been exposed to the disease. From there, they introduced the plague to Sicily, and then the Italian Peninsula. The disease then spread throughout the rest of Europe over the next few years.
Needless to say, the people of Europe were terrified since they did not know how the disease originated, or how to deal with it. Some people blamed the plague on deadly gases being released from the ground via earthquakes, while others claimed it was God’s wrath for humanity’s wickedness, while even others claimed it was a Jewish conspiracy to poison the wells. And of course, physicians at the time were unable to do much about the plague. In addition, the sanitary conditions during the Fourteenth Century were substandard, which probably accelerate the disease.

The Black Death eventually receded once its natural cycle was broken. Although other outbreaks of the plague would occur in the centuries to follow, they were nowhere as deadly as the Black Death. But one thing was clear: it left deep scars on European society, physically, socially, and psychologically.

The Spanish Influenza of 1918 is said to have killed anywhere from 25 to 50 million people worldwide. It originated in the United States at Fort Riley, Kansas during the last year of World War I. An army cook named Albert Mitchell reported to sick call on March 11, 1918, with flu-like symptoms. During the day, over a hundred other soldiers had similar symptoms, and within a week the number increased to over 500, and soon people were being diagnosed with the flu all across America. Within a year, it would spread to the rest of the globe due to American soldiers who were afflicted being sent overseas.

The United States was the country least affected with its death toll being 675,000, since millions of people from other nations died from the pandemic. Examples include India (where twelve million are said
to have died), Spain (where eight million were infected), and Germany (which is said to have resulted in the German offensive of July 1918 ending in failure).

As was the case with the Black Death, no one at the time knew what caused the flu or how it originated. The fact that it was caused by a virus had yet to be discovered. As for its origin, some say that it started in birds, and then spread to pigs, and then on to humans. Naturally, people were afraid of coming down with the flu, and there were some cases of communities taking extreme measures to prevent the spread of the disease (e.g. Prescott, Arizona prohibiting people from shaking hands). However, such fear paled in comparison to the hysteria during the Black Death.

Over a year after the flu pandemic started, it mysteriously disappeared. And although over flu pandemics would occur in later years, they produced fewer deaths due to advances in medicine.

So in conclusion, keep in mind that the outbreaks of the past were worse than the coronavirus. And supposedly scientists in Israel have developed a vaccine to combat this current pandemic.

Andrew Linn
Andrew Linn is a member of the Owensboro Tea Party and a former Field Representative for the Media Research Center. An ex-Democrat, he became a Republican one week after the 2008 Presidential Election. He has an M.A. in history from the University of Louisville, where he became a member of the Phi Alpha Theta historical honors society. He has also contributed to examiner.com and Right Impulse Media.