A pocket full of posies
A tissue, a tissue
We all fall down
Many people will recognise this familiar childhood song as a tune of happiness and joy. Many of them will also know it’s origins are from a time when the world experienced the worst disease seen by humanity, far worse than our current pandemic: the bubonic plague, or Black Death.
The symptoms start with a heavy fever, headache and chills. Then, the extreme fatigue and weakness sets in. This is followed by abdominal pain, vomiting and possibly diarrhoea. Bleeding from your mouth and nose is followed by shock and the death of tissue from your fingers, toes and nose, which blacken. During this illness, your body is covered with red rings - ring-a-ring-a-rosies - and right before you die, you get a sneezing fit - a tissue, a tissue, we all fall down.
After hearing this dreadful timeline of horror, you may not be surprised that this disease killed 75,000,000–200,000,000 people across Eurasia and North Africa from 1347-1351. Due to the overwhelming number of deaths, the uninfected people would stay in quarantine - sound familiar? - and it worked... the disease disappeared and for seven hundred years seemed to affect no one.
You’ve probably heard anti-vaxxers say that “the Black Death disappeared without a vaccine,” and they’re not completely wrong. However, there are still a few cases every year in countries like China and the USA, around 1-17, but a few thousand worldwide. Fortunately, there is a cure and treatment for this hell of an illness, even if the victims aren’t as large in number as that of Covid-19. And this is why we don’t fear a similar serious outbreak.
There are a few things we can do to help keep numbers down: be wary of stray animals, especially rodents. The Black Death was transferred by fleas which were transported on rats. In short, despite the unlikelihood, be aware of any warnings and reports of disease, and stay well clear from wild animals that could be infected.