Society in the Middle Ages: | The Black Death: | How the Plague transmitted: | What people though cause the Plague: | Cures for the Plague: | Impact of the Plague: | 1918 Influenza Pandemic: | Ebola Outbreak:

Society in the Middle Ages:

Most people lived in villages and were peasants in the Middle Ages. They did not travel very far. Most of their time was spent working the land so they could grow enough food to survive. Conditions people lived in were unhygenic. Animals were often kept in houses and rubbish could be found on all village streets. Your social life would be based around church feasts and village market days. On special occasions fairs were also held.

People in the Middle Ages were superstitious. Because they did not know how diseases were caused they believed in a higher power. They had their own cures for diseases that often contradicted one another and very rarely worked. They knew very little about science in the Middle Ages.

The Black Death:

The first arrived in Europe in 1347. It is thought to have come from Asia then travelled through Europe to England in 1348. There was 3 different forms of the Plague:
  1. Bubonic: This is the most common form of the Plague. Black swellings would erupt in the arm pits and groin of its victims. Boils would cover their bodies and black blotches would appear on the skin (hence the name Black Death). Within five days most victims would be dead.
  2. Pneumonic: This form of the plague affected the lungs. People that caught the disease would have chest pains and cough and spit up blood. They would usually die within 3 days.
  3. Septicaemic: This was the most deadly form of the plague as it effected the bloodstream. People that caught this form of the Plague would die within 2 days.

How the Plague transmitted:


What people though cause the Plague:

A lot of people thought that the Plague was punishment from god. Other theories included everything from strange tempests to fumes from inside the earth. Poisoned air was a common theory as to what had caused the plague as well. Some people even though it had been caused by sheets of fire.

Cures for the Plague:

Cures for the plague were wide and varied. They included putting on hot plasters, drinking potions made of a variety of spices and being given laxatives. Some people had their buboes lanced while others were bled with leeches. Most people at some stage prayed for a cure as well.

Today all three forms of the plague can be cured with antibiotics such as tetracycline and streptomycin.

Impact of the Plague:

The Black Death had a huge impact on society. Men who usually worked in the fields got sick so fields went unploughed and crops went unharvested. Animals were lost because there was no one around to tend to them. Whole villages faced starvation. There was also food shortages in towns and cities. The price of food went up (in some cases more than four times) which created more hardship for poor people.

Bodies often lay in the streets because there was nobody to bury them. People avoided one another so they would not catch the plague. Some believed the world was going to end and most people expected death. People even abandoned their sick family members. one third Europe's population is said to have died during the Black Death.

1918 Influenza Pandemic:

With a death toll of 21 million people world wide the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was the worst pandemic since the Black Death of the 1340's. In New Zealand there was approximately 6 500 - 8 500 deaths. The pandemic spread around the world quickly because it coincided with the end of World War I. The flu is thought to have entered New Zealand on the SS Niagara which was transporting soldiers back to New Zealand from the trenches of Europe. As the ship was not quarantined the flu quickly spread.

People were encouraged to go to inhalation chambers to breath in fumes to clear their lungs. This actually helped to spread the flu because it brought together large groups of people. Approximately one third of the population of New Zealand was infected with the flu. Death rates were high in military camps because a lot of people were living in cramped conditions. Doctors and nurses also got sick and medical supplies ran out. Churches and schools were turned into hospitals as the demand for medical treatment increased. The government order schools, hotels and theatres to close. Other businesses such as factories and shops also closed because they did not have enough staff to run them.

Ebola Outbreak:

The first outbreak of the Ebola virus was in 1976 in Zaire. The virus is named after the Ebola river in Zaire where it was first discovered. 274 people died in the 1976 outbreak. There is no cure for Ebola. Victims would start by getting a sore throat and a headache. This was followed by a fever, rash on the stomach and bleeding from gums and nose. Eventually victims would suffer a painful death that included bleeding through eyes, lips, ears and skin.

The second outbreak of Ebola occured in 1995 in Kikwit, Zaire. This is a food growing area near the capital Kinshasa. A quarantine was placed around Kinshasa. people bribed soldiers to let them go there anyway. Scientists tried to establish where the source of the virus was. Locals came up with their own ideas including that the virus was spread by a witch doctor who turned himself into a hippootamus and disappeared into a river. This outbreak of Ebola killed 226 people.

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