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Black Death may have improved European health

Black Death May Have Improved European Health

The Black Death (shudder). It's the most feared plague ever to sweep humanity, but it might have actually done us a favor.

A new study suggests after the plague ravaged Europe in the mid-1400s, the generations of people who managed to survive lived longer and with a higher standard of living than before.

The researchers looked at 600 skeletons from both before and after the Black Death in London and determined the age of death, according to PLOS One.

That's how they found a silver lining of sorts. People were living much longer with lower mortality risks in populations that were hit by the plague.

One of the researchers told LiveScience the plague essentially acted as a broad stroke of natural selection, weeding out the old, weak and frail and leaving the healthy behind to keep passing on those high-quality genes to their descendants.

Starting in 1437, the plague moved from Turkey and Greece to Italy and onto the rest of Europe, eventually reaching England and leaving half of London dead.

Estimates for the death rate are scattered - but unfathomably high. Death tolls range from 25 million, 75 million, 100 million and up to 200 million. But even if it was a low-balled 25 million deaths, that's three times the population of New York City today.

When the plague released its grip on Europe, between 30 and 50 percent of the population was gone, according to the History Channel. It's hard to imagine, but, as the study found, it opened the door to a better life for those who survived.

As Time explains, the workforce had shrunk, allowing healthy people to demand more money and benefits for their labor. By the end of the century, wages were triple what they had been, and food like bread and meat was plentiful.

It was long believed the Black Death was a disease carried by rats and spread by their fleas, but as we reported in March, a recently discovered mass grave shows it could have been airborne, spread by coughing and sneezing.

And it hasn't left us alone yet. According to The Atlantic, there have been reported cases and outbreaks of the bubonic plague strain in African and Asian countries in the last decade. About 1,000 or 2,000 cases are reported each year.

Thankfully, though, now the plague can be treated with antibiotics. There have been only five reported cases in the United States since 2001.

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hannibal_lectur_md May 09 2014 at 9:19 AM

Folks don't let this get to your head. It's only a minor news artictle. Why let yourself get stirred up by what someone writes.

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1 reply
Deb hannibal_lectur_md May 09 2014 at 10:27 AM

This kills me. Natural selection indeed. For someone calling himself/herself "JIM", with the pretty picture of Niagara Falls, this article produces the !?brilliant?! idea that it would be neat to go killing people in our present day, in poor neighborhoods (which leaves me to shudder/wonder at the thought that he/she might already have taken up such a baton and run with it). Then you have "hannibal the cannibal" here, with one of the only sane reactions on the thread. What a rich snapshot in to the "higher mind" we have here.

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doughopping May 09 2014 at 10:27 AM

The source paper about this article can be found at plosone.org, the AOL article identifying 1437 as the European start date is a fat thumb typo... the actual date is 1347. Oops!!! It's a very well researched article and document, worth a read to understand what the new findings are really all about.

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2 replies
doughopping doughopping May 09 2014 at 10:28 AM


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nutmegdoug doughopping May 09 2014 at 11:17 AM

I thought that might be the case, too, at first, but not after seeing the reference to "mid-1400s". That wasn't a typo.

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savannahswithgod May 09 2014 at 10:28 AM

So you get rid of people and a better way of Life? Our politicians are drooling? A World War anyone, a draft? Let's see some trouble around the Globe somewhere?

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2 replies
Tom savannahswithgod May 09 2014 at 10:43 AM

They drool only when they see a Lobbyist checkbook.

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1 reply
Erbie's Tom May 09 2014 at 11:28 AM

An act of war, they don't need the Lobbyist checkbook, all rules are dropped when Congress says it is an act of war. Police actions are a different story, there has been no war since 1945, but innumberable police actions.

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frankerin savannahswithgod May 09 2014 at 11:35 AM

Ethnic cleansing is as old as tribal warfare, as non PC such a statement may be

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camarogirl12177 May 09 2014 at 10:37 AM

You think this is a "new" study? I learned this in college 15 years ago. Way to be au courant.

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1 reply
doughopping camarogirl12177 May 09 2014 at 10:47 AM

The theory isn't new but the analysis of skeletons in England was performed within the last 5 years. Read the source document.

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1 reply
camarogirl12177 doughopping May 09 2014 at 10:51 AM

Yes. I got that. They spent a lot of money to study a question people already had the answer to.

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Kurtis Erikson May 09 2014 at 10:39 AM

This should get the eugenicist excited. What constitutes survival in the modern world has changed. We are strong today because of our compassion and ability to work together towards a common good. The Nazis subscribed to social Darwinism and all of us untermensch got together and kicked their asses. There is no obvious relationship between a person's apparent physical health and their ability to contribute meaningfully to our society. Stephen Hawking is confined to a wheel chair and yet he is one of our greatest physicists. Social Darwinism is a failed and morally bankrupt idea.

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3 replies
rjnod80 May 09 2014 at 11:04 AM

population control. another plank of the left. best seen in the militant stance on abortion, and the continual condemnation of of those that treasure life. China's one child policy is yet another example. the entire environmentalist movement is driven by population control, with all the hand wringing over how will the masses be fed, non reversible damage to mother earth, earth day etc etc.

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1 reply
RussianBallerina rjnod80 May 09 2014 at 11:25 AM

When there are less people competing for food and employment, the trend is that wages go up and poor people have access to more food.

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1 reply
frankerin RussianBallerina May 09 2014 at 11:33 AM

Time for you to go, follow the Stalinist ethnic cleansing.

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Doug Weiskopf May 09 2014 at 11:11 AM

If we were animals this would be called "thinning the herd".

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Erbie's May 09 2014 at 11:14 AM

How much did it run the people out of the cities. In those days people were jammed on top of one another in cities along with the rats. The death may have scared them away from their neighbors and the rats into the country where they would be healthier and then live longer.

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msggov May 09 2014 at 11:23 AM

Common sense few people less competition for food and land. The science only verifies the common sense answer.

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Vimala Nowlis May 09 2014 at 11:25 AM

Black Death was a blessing in disguise for the Europeans.
No, the Death was not carried by the rats. That's not news. It was carried by sick fleas who rode on the rats. When the fleas suck your blood, it injects saliva to thin out your blood for easier *******. That's how the sickness was transmitted. This has been known for a long time.
Unlike natural disasters, it did not kill indiscriminately. It killed mostly the older, the weaker, the poor, the stupid, and the sick. It swept the gene pool of the undesirables. Those who survived were younger, stronger, richer, smarter, and healthier.
Unlike wars, it did not destroy properties. It only killed people. The survivors ended up with all the material goods and land the dead left behind. Since 50% of the people died, it was a great windfall.
Now that only 50% of the laborors were available. They were younger, stronger, and smarter. They began to demand higher wages and better work condiditons. It led to the creation of the modern mindset.

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4 replies
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