New Discovery: The Black Death Was Not Spread By Rats, Must Have Been Airborne

In the autumn of 1348, The Black Death came to Britain from east Asia. By the next spring, it had killed 6 out of every 10 people in London.

It has long been thought that the plague spread via flea-infested rats, but a new discovery has prompted scientists to revise this theory.

Amidst pre-construction excavations for a train line in Charterhouse Square (to the north of the City of London) about a year ago, workers discovered 25 skeletons which were found to have been from the time of the plague.

Scientists were able to extract samples of the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, from the teeth of the skeletons, and compared it to a strain of the plague which recently killed about 60 people in Madagascar.

One of the skulls used to extract Black Death DNA (Photo: Philip Toscano/PA)

They expected that the strain from the 14th century would be far more virulent, because of how devastating it was when it hit London, but found instead that it was no more virulent than the strain from Madagascar (their DNA code was almost a perfect match).

The researchers realized that the only way the plague could have spread as fast as it did was for the disease to have been airborne, getting into the lungs and then being spread by coughs and sneezes.

Here’s Dr. Tim Brooks, who’s been leading the research:

“As an explanation [rat fleas] for the Black Death in its own right, it simply isn’t good enough. It cannot spread fast enough from one household to the next to cause the huge number of cases that we saw during the Black Death epidemics.”

Read the full story from The Guardian here.

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