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1593

The plague

mass graves
Mass graves
All London theatres are closed by the plague. More than 10,000 die in this outbreak.

It is believed that the plague may have claimed almost 200 million lives worldwide. In pandemics during the fifth and sixth centuries, and then later between the eighth and fourteenth, the plague is believed to have wiped out nearly 50% of the population in those affected areas.

The source of the plague and its ability to leap continents was a major puzzle for physicians until, in 1894, Alexandre Yersin isolated the plague bacillus, which would be named after him, Yersinia pestis. Yersin developed an antiserum, and suggested the link with fleas and rats.

In earlier centuries rats were a serious problem on all seafaring vessels, and migrated wherever the ships carried them. Riding the rats were the fleas, which would in turn bite humans, causing the plague to jump species and attain its deadly human form.

It is now thought as many as 200 animals may be able to act as a host for fleas carrying the bacillus. In turn, thirty species of flea, tick and louse have been identified as being able to carry the plague.

Symptoms include:

High fever, chills, general malaise, muscular pain, headache, pain in glands area, particularly the groin, leading to smooth oval, reddened swelling.

Today the plague is treated largely by antibiotics, fluid replacement etc. If not treated, at least half of those infected will probably die. With treatment, the death rate reduces to 5%.

Locations

The River Thames, LondonShakespeare's London

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