The Black Plague and Its Impact on Medicine in Medieval Society

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The Black Plague and its Impact on Medicine in Medieval Society

The Black Death (also called the "plague" or the "pestilence", the bacteria that causes it is Yersinia Pestis) was a devastating pandemic causing the death of over one-third of Europe's population in its major wave of 1348-1349. Yersinia Pestis had two major strains: the first, the Bubonic form, was carried by fleas on rodents and caused swelling of the lymph nodes, or "buboes", and lesions under the skin, with a fifty-percent mortality rate; the second, the pneumonic form, was airborne after the bacteria had mutated and caused fluids to build up in the lungs and other areas, causing suffocation and a seventy-percent mortality rate.

Modern scholars suggest an array of
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This caused a general weakness of people's immune systems and was a main factor in the mortality caused by the plague.

Sadly, the medical world was not ready for such a widespread pestilence. Medical knowledge in medieval society had grown little in hundreds of years, relying heavily on the works and theories of ancient physicians such as Hippocrates. The doctors during the plague turned to astrology, religion, and superstitious tradition in evaluating the causes and possible cures of the plague.

Many medical experts of the day attributed astrological causes to the Black Death. The medical faculty at the University of Paris, for example, cited a lining up of "three higher planets in Aquarius," which had occurred in 1345, as the "cause of the ruinous corruption of the air" (Aberth, 41). Alfonso de Córdoba, thought by modern scholars to be a student at the University of Montpellier, responded to the medical faculty's compendium by agreeing that the first wave of the "pestilence" was caused by astrological occurrence, suggesting that the lunar eclipse of 1348 was the cause (Aberth, 45). Both of these sources portray the assumption that the plague was caused by unclean, putrefied air, which, according to these sources, was caused by the motion of the heavenly bodies and the resulting release of harmful vapors. The medical faculty of the University of Paris also believed that the weather had

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