The year was 1347 CE when the menace first entered the population. It crept in silently with the rats and no one was aware of the danger it presented. But they would soon find out.
The disease incubated for a few months before it hit hard in the spring of 1348. By the time the first wave of the epidemic decreased three years later, it is estimated that 25 to 50 percent of the population of Europe had fallen.
Wave after wave of plague rolled through Europe for 400 years. It usually slowed down in the winter due to the cold weather killing off fleas but revived during the warmer weather in the spring and summer, becoming the worst natural disaster pandemic to hit the world during recorded history.
There were three types of plague: septicemic, bubonic and pneumonic. The rats were immune to the disease but they carried the bacteria in their blood. Fleas fed on rat blood and became infected with the bacteria which multiplied rapidly in their gut. When an infected flea bit a human, it regurgitated the rat blood into the human’s bite wound.
The bubonic and septicemic variations of the disease were caused by direct contact with the flea. However the pneumonic version spread by airborne droplets as a person sneezed or coughed. Once in the lungs, the bacteria actually liquified the lung tissue and the person literally coughed up his own lungs over the next few days. Once an infected person sneezed on his caregiver, his child, his mother or someone else, they both knew they would die within a matter of days.
The Black Death
The bubonic variation was the most common form of the plague that appeared. It caused the lymph glands in the arm pits, groin and neck to swell painfully and these enlargements were called buboes. Often large black and purple areas appeared on the skin which gave this form the name, “Black Death.” Those infected suffered from headaches, nausea and vomiting, body aches and fevers spiking as high as 105 degrees. The symptoms appeared in one to seven days after exposure to the bacteria.
The prognosis for bubonic plague during the Dark Ages was a mortality rate of 30 to 75 percent. For the pneumonic plague form, the mortality rate was 90 to 95 percent. The septicemic variation of the plague was the most lethal with a mortality rate of 100 percent. Even today when this form of plague appears in some third world countries, there is no cure and death is almost certain. In some European cities, almost 800 people a day died from the plague.
Ring Around The Rosy
This nursery rhyme referred to rosary beads used to say “Hail Mary’s” for heavenly help. Many people carried a pocket full of posies or flowers to hide the odor of decomposing bodies. At one point, doctors thought the stench was causing and spreading the disease.
A Mass Burial Site
There was no knowledge among either the common or the educated people about the causes of the disease. They flailed about looking for scapegoats–people who might be witches or vampires who could use occult or esoteric knowledge to spread the plague and pestilence across the countryside.
Five hundred years ago, very few people lived past their 40’s, and most people believed that any aged person must be prolonging their life through witchcraft or satanism. So when researchers recently dug up a mass grave in Venice dating back to the 16th century, they expected to find the plague victims piled up as the workers threw their bodies randomly into the pit. So many people died every day from the Black Death that there was no time to individually bury each individual. The bodies were generally carted in and dumped into the open trenches.
However researchers were astonished to find one female skeleton of about 60 years of age in with the rest. Evidently the diggers did allot some special attention to this old lady. They inserted a large brick into her mouth evidently because she might have been a vampire.
The usual practice for disposing of vampire remains was to tie the jaws to the head in such a manner that the deceased could not open the mouth to chew through the ropes and the soil in order to escape from their graves. Sometimes they also drove a stake through the heart in order to nail the corpse to the ground.
Recently archaeologists have also examined some vampire burials in central Europe and found that the skulls had large rocks shoved into their mouths to prevent opening them. Rocks and boulders might also be piled on the bodies and on the graves to keep the inhabitants in place.
The vampire myth proves to be a very deadly legend indeed.