Monday, 15 July 2013

Short History of Quarantine

The practice of quarantine—the separation of the diseased from the healthy—has been around a long time. As early as the writing of the Old Testament, for instance, rules existed for isolating lepers. It wasn't until the Black Death of the 14th century, however, that Venice established the first formal system of quarantine, requiring ships to lay at anchor for 40 days before landing. ("Quarantine" comes from the Latin for forty.)
Peter Tyson. A Short History of Quarantine. Posted 10.12.04. NOVA

Venice. Internet pic
Middle Eastern outbreak of the plague
The plague struck various countries in the Middle East during the pandemic, leading to serious depopulation and permanent change in both economic and social structures. As it spread to western Europe, the disease entered the region from southern Russia also. By autumn 1347, the plague reached Alexandria in Egypt, probably through the port's trade with Constantinople, and ports on the Black Sea. During 1347, the disease travelled eastward to Gaza, and north along the eastern coast to cities in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, including Ashkelon, Acre, Jerusalem, Sidon, Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. In 1348–49, the disease reached Antioch. The city's residents fled to the north, most of them dying during the journey, but the infection had been spread to the people of Asia Minor.

Makkah became infected in 1349. During the same year, records show the city of Mawsil (Mosul) suffered a massive epidemic, and the city of Baghdad experienced a second round of the disease. In 1351 Yemen experienced an outbreak of the plague, coinciding with the return of King Mujahid of Yemen from imprisonment in Cairo. His party may have brought the disease with them from Egypt.

The most widely accepted estimate for the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran and Syria, during this time, is for a death rate of about a third. The Black Death killed about 40% of Egypt's population. Half of Paris's population of 100,000 people died. In Italy, Florence's population was reduced from 110–20 thousand inhabitants in 1338 down to 50 thousand in 1351. At least 60% of Hamburg's and Bremen's population perished. Before 1350, there were about 170,000 settlements in Germany, and this was reduced by nearly 40,000 by 1450. In 1348, the plague spread so rapidly that before any physicians or government authorities had time to reflect upon its origins, about a third of the European population had already perished. In crowded cities, it was not uncommon for as much as 50% of the population to die. Europeans living in isolated areas suffered less, whereas monks and priests were especially hard hit since they cared for the Black Death's victims.

See also: Black Death Jewish persecutions
Renewed religious fervor and fanaticism bloomed in the wake of the Black Death. Some Europeans targeted "various groups such as Jews, friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims", lepers and Roma, thinking that they were to blame for the crisis. Lepers, and other individuals with skin diseases such as acne or psoriasis, were singled out and exterminated throughout Europe.

Because 14th-century healers were at a loss to explain the cause, Europeans turned to astrological forces, earthquakes, and the poisoning of wells by Jews as possible reasons for the plague's emergence. The governments of Europe had no apparent response to the crisis because no one knew its cause or how it spread. The mechanism of infection and transmission of diseases was little understood in the 14th century; many people believed only God's anger could produce such horrific displays.

There were many attacks against Jewish communities. In August 1349, the Jewish communities of Mainz and Cologne were exterminated. In February of that same year, the citizens of Strasbourg murdered 2,000 Jews. By 1351, 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities were destroyed. The Brotherhood of the Flagellants, a movement said to number up to 800,000, reached its peak of popularity.

Rat flea is the vector for Yersinia pestis.
Ships carry infected rats which can infect pilgrims.

Plague victims in mass grave.
Positive ID of DNA points to Yersinia pestis infection.
Spread of plague in Europe