All bites are off - fleas did spread plague

All bites are off - fleas did spread plague

ONCE BITTEN... A photo-micrograph of the common flea, a carrier of the disease

CARRIER: The black rat was the means of transport for the fleas across Europe

First published in News Worcester News: Photograph of the Author by , @davidpaineWN #worcsnews

COUNTY archaeologists have provided conclusive proof that the plague which wiped out about 60 per cent of the European population in the 14th century was caused by fleas.

Human skeletons excavated from pits near Hereford Cathedral helped scholars at Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service definitively confirm the plague’s origins.

The team were working as part of an international science project in partnership with the University of Mainz in Germany.

Their findings, published in an online journal, provide final proof that the plague spread via the transmission of the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which was passed on through bites from fleas carried by black rats.

This effectively rules out other common theories, including that the Black Death was actually a fever, and resolves a long-standing debate about the cause of the devastating disease.

For Derek Hurst, Worcestershire County Council’s senior archaeological project officer, the findings are revolutionary.

He said: “This research settles a major aspect of controversy surrounding the Black Death in that it resolves the question of what was the causative agent. Excitingly, after years of debate, this advance in knowledge provides a firm base from which to finally answer remaining questions such as the exact route the disease took and the exact method by which people became infected.”

Fascinatingly, research was based on the DNA analysis of teeth from 76 human skeletons excavated from mass plague graves, including three pits discovered in the precincts of Hereford Cathedral.

The Hereford excavation project – which started back in 1993 – is the largest of its type ever undertaken in Herefordshire with the remains of more than a thousand individuals uncovered.

In the 14th century Hereford was a thriving market town and a centre for religious pilgrimage.

It was hit by three successive devastating outbreaks of plague in 1349, 1361 and 1369, which killed off large swathes of the population.

Now, from beyond the grave, some of these unfortunates have helped to unlock the secrets of the plague thanks to cutting-edge DNA technologies.

Tooth pulp from seven of the Hereford skeletons was tested along with samples taken from locations across Europe including Italy, Germany, France and the Netherlands, at the University of Turin in Italy.

These tests confirmed the presence of Yersinia pestis.

The Black Death was devastating for Worcestershire too. Mediaeval records show that up to 45 per cent of the church clergy died within the Diocese of Worcester while in the countryside up to half of all farmers died.

Tellingly, the figures do not even take into account the impact of the plague on children in the population.

The Black Death swept through Europe and Asia on several more occasions, the last of which is thought to have been the Russian plague of 1770-1772.

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Comments (2)

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9:12am Tue 15 Mar 11

Peter WR5 says...

On behalf of the rat population of this city, I should like to protest against the ratist comments it contains. Rats will feel that they have been singled out for discriminatory comments and will have little option but to bite back.

Seriously, this is a great peace of research.

One of the mainstays of the rat population, at least in foggy WR5, is the green compost bins. I used to shove all the uncooked veg waste in them until I found that the blighters had constructed an underground tunnelling system equal to anything London Underground could design. I put a double mesh of chicken wire at the base, so the little chappies gnawed a hole through the top of the bin to get in.

Humans 0 : 3 Rats
On behalf of the rat population of this city, I should like to protest against the ratist comments it contains. Rats will feel that they have been singled out for discriminatory comments and will have little option but to bite back. Seriously, this is a great peace of research. One of the mainstays of the rat population, at least in foggy WR5, is the green compost bins. I used to shove all the uncooked veg waste in them until I found that the blighters had constructed an underground tunnelling system equal to anything London Underground could design. I put a double mesh of chicken wire at the base, so the little chappies gnawed a hole through the top of the bin to get in. Humans 0 : 3 Rats Peter WR5
  • Score: 0

8:31am Sat 14 May 11

benedictquest says...

The first case of bubonic plague in 2011 has been confirmed; a man in New Mexico has caught one of the deadliest diseases in human history. The Black Plague, a flea-borne disease, has never gone totally away and individuals in some remote areas are at some risk for catching it. It's not really as unusual as it sounds. There are generally about a dozen cases per year in the U.S. alone. Here is the proof: New Mexico man gets first bubonic plague case of the year.
The first case of bubonic plague in 2011 has been confirmed; a man in New Mexico has caught one of the deadliest diseases in human history. The Black Plague, a flea-borne disease, has never gone totally away and individuals in some remote areas are at some risk for catching it. It's not really as unusual as it sounds. There are generally about a dozen cases per year in the U.S. alone. Here is the proof: New Mexico man gets first bubonic plague case of the year. benedictquest
  • Score: 0
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