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Improved hygiene and readily available antibiotics keep this bad boy at bay. But what a history. Find out more about the good old days.

Black Death (Yersinia pestis)

  • Fun gift for history buffs -- or hypochondriacs
  • Scary Halloween decoration!
Learn more about Black Death (Yersinia pestis)

FACTS: In October, 1347, the Black Death (then called the “pestilence”) arrived in the city of Messina in Sicily. The plague, which had been raging in Asia, had followed the trade routes and stowed away on ships returning from the Black Sea. By 1352, 25 million people – or a third of Europe’s population – were dead.

This was at least the second instance of a cataclysmic plague striking Europe. In 542 A.D., the plague ravaged the Roman empire of Justinian (and the plague may have been responsible for devastating Athens in 430 B.C.). During yet another wave of plague in 1894 in Asia, a Swiss-French bacteriologist named Alexandre Yersin discovered that the Yersinia pestis bacterium was the devil behind it. (Although some have questioned whether this bacterium was responsible for the medieval Black Death – the spread of which was uncommonly rapid – the consensus continues to favor Yersin.)

The plague has not been eradicated. But outbreaks today are few and isolated. In addition, there are readily available treatments, including the antibiotic Tetracycline (commonly prescribed to teenagers with severe acne). Nevertheless, it is always possible that antibiotic-resistant strains could one day become prevalent and that history could repeat itself again….

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