"Evidence from skulls in east London shows plague had to have been airborne to spread so quickly": apparently it went pneumonic
(Black death was not spread by rat fleas, say researchers | Science | The Observer)
NO. WRONG. NOPE NOPE NOPE.
The plague as caused by Yersinia pestis came in THREE forms. All three occurred and spread simultaneously during every outbreak, especially this particular one in London: Bubonic plague, Septicemic plague, and Pneumonic plague. Now. All three are caused by the SAME pathogen. But they behave very differently.
Bubonic form is the one we are most familiar with. A flea bites a person, the wound is contaminated with the bacteria from the flea’s gullet, and the bacteria begins to breed. Y. pestis is a clever bastard, and can reproduce INSIDE the white blood cells that clear out infections. Thus, the infection will rapidly appear in the lymphatic system. When Y. pestis hits a lymph node, it produces a haemoragic inflammation of the node. Aka, IT FILLS WITH INFECTED, DEAD BLOOD. Thus, the large, black nodules called bubo which give this form its name.
Now, let’s say you’re a poor sot unlucky enough to get the Bubonic form of the disease. There are some rather nasty symptoms that can rapidly put infected particulate into the air. One in particular … vomiting blood. Constantly. Another.. say your bubo ruptures… and sprays blood and bacteria everywhere. And any number of other issues. This isn’t really “airborn” - this is vector born in particulate in the air. But you bet your ass it will spread fast.
Now… let’s try flavor number two. Your lymph system and circulatory system are connected. Which means all the shit building up in the lymph nodes will end up back in the blood. Which means.. septicemic plague. This is a nasty bastard, where the toxins that Y. pestis produces cause, well, let me quote wikipedia here:
“disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), causing tiny clots throughout the body and possibly ischaemic necrosis (tissue death due to lack of circulation/perfusion to that tissue) from the clots. DIC results in depletion of the body’s clotting resources, so that it can no longer control bleeding. Consequently, there is bleeding into the skin and other organs, which can cause red and/or black patchy rash and hemoptysis/hematemesis (coughing up/ vomiting of blood). There are bumps on the skin that look somewhat like insect bites; these are usually red, and sometimes white in the center.”
Remember my comment above about blood particulates in the air? Yep.
Now, the final common form is Pneumonic plague. This means that instead of infecting the lymphatic or circulatory system, the lungs are infected. Now, this can happen one of two ways. Foremost, it can happen the same way the other two flavors happen - a flea bites you, the infection spreads, and it reaches your lungs, where it begins to propagate. It can also happen by breathing in the infected blood, mucous, spit, or any other bodily fluid of an individual with ANY form of the plague.
Of course, good ole PP happens to be the most rapidly fatal form, with a very short incubation period (sometimes less than a day), and very rapid onset of system failure (six days is the max). It is also ~100% fatal if not treated (I’ve NEVER heard of a case surviving without treatment, unlike the other two forms).
All three forms of this disease are the SAME pathogen, which has multiple vectors of infection in an epidemic situation (like London). We know from accounts that ALL THREE FORMS were observed, so it could NOT have been just one form. In fact, you can contract ANY FORM from ANY TYPE of infection. So if the person you’re exposed to has PP, you may manifest with SP or BP. You’re more LIKELY to get PP from PP, but you can just as easily get PP from exposure to the aerosolized bodily fluids of someone with SP or BP.
And remember… every flea that has bitten a person while they were infected with ANY form of this is now ALSO infected. And spreading the disease.
… And there are accounts of the fleas sounding like rain hitting glass they were so thick inside some buildings during the height of the last major plague outbreak in London. Let that nightmare image seep in a moment.
… tick tick tick tick tick tick ttititkicitititki… billions of starvation mad fleas plinking against glass or stone or wood….
my sarcastibrit design history prof talked about this! i can’t remember much of the discussion because I WAS BUSY BEING FREAKED THE FUCK OUT but it came up because he was talking about certain zoning/construction/excavation-related laws in London being related to “yeah, there’s a giant pit o’ bodies right about here that dates back from the time the plague was wiping everyone out; we know it’s probably not still going to KILL MANY PEOPLE but we’re erring on the side of caution. also, giant grave.”
he also mentioned the population of london dwindling so much and the body count being so unmanageable at one point that wolves just straight-up wandered into the city to munch on the remains of victims.
he mentioned the “exceptionally-determined tide of hungry, hungry, HUNGRY fleas” too (wearing his giant evil “joyfully freaking out the students” grin all the while) and i wanted to hide under my desk.