The Plague

What the Black Death can teach us about Covid-19

Lessons from the bubonic plague's spread through Europe can offer a roadmap for our future.

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In pre-Covid-19 times, the word “pandemic” typically conjured up visions of the Black Death that raged through Europe in the 14th century, killing 30-60 percent of the country’s population.

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We also tend to think of that time as one isolated event — something that happened, and then ended.

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But that’s not really how bubonic plague worked — in fact, the pandemic came back several times over a period of 300 years.

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New research delves into how the plague’s spread changed over the course of its 300 year history.

By the 17th century, the number of people infected doubled every 11 days, versus every 43 days in the 14th century.

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Multiple factors could have led to this uptick in infection rate.

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It could have been rising population in places like London, which led to higher populations of rats and fleas (which carry the bacteria that cause plague).

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Climatic factors may have played a role, with the coldest times occurring in the 17th century.

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Although the findings aren’t immediately applicable to today’s pandemic, they help experts put new discoveries about how Covid-19 spreads in context.

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Armed with that knowledge, we might be able to prepare for the future of the pandemic.

Read more health stories here.

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