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Bubonic Plague

Plague Pandemics

Plague has played a major role in world history. Some evidence exists that a plague pandemic took place about 2,000 years ago, but the first recorded pandemic of plague occurred in A.D. 542 in Egypt and Ethiopia. This pandemic killed 100 million people.

The next great plague pandemic occurred in the fourteenth century in Europe, Central Asia, the North East, India, and China. In this pandemic, trading ships from China carried infected rats to Europe. About 25 million people in Europe alone died from plague; some experts estimate that this number constitutes a third of the European population. Because so many people died, The Plague of 1665. Mary Evans Picture Library/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission. the plague had a major impact on the economy and political structure of Europe. The scarcity of workers led to a scarcity of food; workers, previously given little compensation for their labors, began to demand higher wages. Some historians feel that the unrest of workers and the middle class in Europe that culminated in the beheading of King Charles I in England in the seventeenth century and the beheading of Louis XVI in France in the eighteenth century had its roots in the economic aftermath of the fourteenth plague pandemic.

The third plague pandemic began in Burma in 1894; from there, the plague spread to China and through Hong Kong to North America. One hundred million people in India died from plague over a period of 20 years. During this pandemic, the United States saw its first case of plague in 1900 in San Francisco. In 1907, 167 cases of plague in San Francisco were recorded. As a result of the pandemic, rats and other wild rodents in the areas around San Francisco became reservoirs of Yersinia pestis. Today, isolated cases of plague are still found in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The majority of cases worldwide (90%) occur in Southeast Asia: Burma, South Vietnam, Nepal, and Indonesia. Brazil also has a high number of plague cases. A recent outbreak in Surat, India, in 1994, killed 56 people and caused widespread panic.

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