Bubonic / Pneumonic / Septicemic Plague: Yersinia Pestis

Europe's chill linked to disease
By Kate Ravilious

Europe's "Little Ice Age" may have been triggered by the 14th Century Black Death plague, according to a new study. Pollen and leaf data support the idea that millions of trees sprang up on abandoned farmland, soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This would have had the effect of cooling the climate, a team from Utrecht University, Netherlands, says. The Little Ice Age was a period of some 300 years when Europe experienced a dip in average temperatures.

Dr Thomas van Hoof and his colleagues studied pollen grains and leaf remains collected from lake-bed sediments in the southeast Netherlands. Monitoring the ups and downs in abundance of cereal pollen (like buckwheat) and tree pollen (like birch and oak) enabled them to estimate changes in land-use between AD 1000 and 1500.

Pore clues

The team found an increase in cereal pollen from 1200 onwards (reflecting agricultural expansion), followed by a sudden dive around 1347, linked to the agricultural crisis caused by the arrival of the Black Death, most probably a bacterial disease spread by rat fleas.

This bubonic plague is said to have wiped out over a third of Europe's population.

Counting stomata (pores) on ancient oak leaves provided van Hoof's team with a measure of the fluctuations in atmospheric carbon dioxide for the same period.

This is because leaves absorb carbon dioxide through their stomata, and their density varies as carbon dioxide goes up and down.

"Between AD 1200 to 1300, we see a decrease in stomata and a sharp rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, due to deforestation we think," says Dr van Hoof, whose findings are published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

But after AD 1350, the team found the pattern reversed, suggesting that atmospheric carbon dioxide fell, perhaps due to reforestation following the plague.

The researchers think that this drop in carbon dioxide levels could help to explain a cooling in the climate over the following centuries.

Ocean damper

From around 1500, Europe appears to have been gripped by a chill lasting some 300 years.

There are many theories as to what caused these bitter years, but popular ideas include a decrease in solar activity, an increase in volcanic activity or a change in ocean circulation.

The new data adds weight to the theory that the Black Death could have played a pivotal role.

Not everyone is convinced, however. Dr Tim Lenton, an environmental scientist from the University of East Anglia, UK, said: "It is a nice study and the carbon dioxide changes could certainly be a contributory factor, but I think they are too modest to explain all the climate change seen."

And Professor Richard Houghton, a climate expert from Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, US, believes that the oceans would have compensated for the change.

"The atmosphere is in equilibrium with the ocean and this tends to dampen or offset small changes in terrestrial carbon uptake," he explained.

Nonetheless, the new findings are likely to cause a stir.

"It appears that the human impact on the environment started much earlier than the industrial revolution," said Dr van Hoof.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/s ... 755328.stm

Published: 2006/02/27 13:48:08 GMT


Edit to amend title.
LA Woman Hospitalized With Bubonic Plague

Apr 18 9:15 PM US/Eastern

AP Science Writer


A woman was hospitalized earlier this month with bubonic plague, the first confirmed human case in Los Angeles County in more than two decades, health officials said Tuesday.

The woman, who was not identified, was admitted April 13 with a fever, swollen lymph nodes and other symptoms. A blood test confirmed she had contracted the bacterial disease. The woman was placed on antibiotics and is in stable condition, officials said.

Bubonic plague is not contagious, but if left untreated it can morph into pneumonic plague, which can be spread from person to person. Bubonic plague is usually transmitted to humans from the bites of fleas infected by dead rodents.

Health officials suspect the woman was exposed to fleas in her central Los Angeles home, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's director of public health. The woman's family was also placed on antibiotics as a precaution, but there's no evidence they were infected.

The case is unusual because it occurred in an urban area, Fielding said. Most bubonic plague outbreaks happen in rural communities.

Health officials said there was no cause for panic because the disease is not easily transmissible.

"There's no cause for alarm in the community," Fielding said.

Health officials went to the woman's home Monday to trap squirrels and other wild animals. Blood samples from the animals will be sent to a lab to determine if any are infected.

An estimated 10 to 20 Americans contract plague each year, mostly in rural communities. About one in seven cases is fatal, according to federal statistics.

The last human cases of plague in Los Angeles County occurred in 1984 when three people contracted the disease. Two of those cases were travel-related and the third involved a person exposed to a sick animal. All three survived.

Bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe between 1346 and 1351. The last major urban outbreak in the U.S. occurred in Los Angeles in 1924-25, when at least 30 people died.

In California, bubonic plague is prevalent among squirrels in the Angeles National Forest and other parks. Health officials regularly warn campers and hikers to take precaution against the disease by avoiding infected animals.

The plague is considered a bioterrorism agent and state law requires that doctors report suspected cases to local health departments.


On the Net:

Los Angeles Department of Health Services: http://www.dhs.co.la.ca.us

Not that this is all that relevant, seeing as it's fiction, but someone had the bubonic plague on the show "House" on Tuesday.
The average year sees approximately eight to 12 human victims of Bubonic Plague in the United States, most of them in the Western states, with the vast majority of the victims cured through prompt medical intervention.

Bubonic Plague is said to be endemic within the prairie dog [rodent] populations of the American West.
Researchers Uncover a Secret of the Black Death

Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes plague, is a sneaky little intruder with a remarkable ability to evade the body’s immune system. Upon entering an organism, Y. pestis employs a variety of strategies to slip below the radar of the innate immune response—the body’s front line of defense against invading pathogens—and in many cases kills the host before its more specific antibacterial response can develop.

It is this stealth and virulence that has made plague one of the most feared diseases in human history, blamed for more than 200 million deaths. While human cases of plague in the United States are now rare, a few thousands worldwide are infected each year and with the potential of intentional misuse of Y. pestis, the efforts to develop better treatments and a vaccine are now no less important than they were when the bacterium was first identified.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have made a significant breakthrough in the field, modifying Y. pestis with a gene found in another commonly known bacterium, effectively rendering it unable to cause plague. In “Virulence factors of Yersinia pestis are overcome by a strong LPS response,” to be published in the October issue of Nature Immunology, Egil Lien, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and molecular genetics & microbiology, Jon D. Goguen, PhD, associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, graduate student Sara Montminy and colleagues, also describe the effectiveness of the modified bacteria as a vaccine.

Innate immunity—the precursor to the adaptive immune system in mammals—acts as the first line of defense against a range of pathogens. Prior to the adaptive immune response that involves the body’s production of antibodies that precisely target and combat the invader, the innate immune system reacts immediately upon infection. Recent research has described an important class of sensor molecules, collectively known as Toll-like receptors (TLRs) that recognize pathogens right away, activating the critical signaling pathways that stimulate this initial immune response. Activation of the TLRs also improves the adaptive immune response; in fact, many vaccines include ingredients known as adjuvants that stimulate the innate immune response.

Intriguingly, the bacteria Y. pestis has an unusual temperature-dependent ability to evade this system. Lipopolysaccharide, or LPS, is a major component of the membrane of this type of bacteria, contributing to structural integrity but also typically provoking a strong response from the immune system. When at human body temperature (37ºC), Y. pestis produces an LPS with a poor ability to activate TLR4, one of the major mammalian innate immunity toll-like receptors; at lower temperatures, for example that of a flea that transmits the disease (26º), the LPS produced was distinctly more potent and thus triggered TLR4.

Recognizing that this difference was not found in E. coli, a common bacterium with some similarities to Y. pestis, Lien identified an E. coli gene that was important for the production of LPS but that was missing in Y. pestis. Using this gene to generate new strains of Y. pestis, researchers produced Y. pestis strains that were recognized much more easily by innate immunity and TLR4 at both temperatures. Importantly, the investigators found that the new strains were unable to cause plague and mortality in normal mice; the strains were at least a million times less virulent than the wild type bacteria.

“Our findings describe one of the secrets of the Black Death,” Lien said. “These results suggest that the production of surface lipids with poor ability to activate innate immunity is essential for Y. pestis to be so deadly, and, in fact, for the ability of the bacteria to cause plague. We expect this strategy to also be important for various other human bacterial pathogens.”

“This result is quite surprising, in part because plague research has focused on many active things that the bacteria do to protect themselves from host defenses, including injecting toxins directly into cells of the immune system that try to engulf them," notes Goguen. “Apparently all of this is useless unless the bugs can also hide from TLR4. Stealth is important.”

Significantly, Lien and colleagues also determined that these new harmless strains of Y. pestis could serve as vaccines. After vaccinating mice with the modified strain of Y. pestis, the investigators re-introduced the virulent strain after 30 days and found that all of the animals were protected from developing plague. These findings show that the production of avirulent bacterial strains with enhanced ability to stimulate the immune system could constitute a new general method for generating effective vaccines.

Source: University of Massachusetts Medical School

Breathless Death

The really scary thing is pneumonic plague, which is far more virulent and is usually mistaken for pneumonia until it's too late.

Don't worry though, there's always anti-biotics... except that the US and other governments have spent a lot of money developing drug-resistant strains to use as weapons.

You may remember the anthrax attacks? The media seems to have forgotten them.

The investigation into the anthrax attacks stalled when the US government refused to cooperate after the Ames strain used was traced to a laboratory owned by the CIA.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/n ... 873368.stm

Fear terrorism. Fear the enemies of Israel. Fear those who occupy oil-rich land.
Re: Breathless Death

oilwar said:
Fear terrorism. Fear the enemies of Israel. Fear those who occupy oil-rich land.

You have nothing to fear but fear itself.

And the big scaly monster with nasty sharp pointy teeth who lives under your bed.
Re: Breathless Death

oilwar said:
The really scary thing is pneumonic plague, which is far more virulent and is usually mistaken for pneumonia until it's too late.

Pneumonic plague is so extremely virulent that up to this point it has always blown itself out before it can spread far.

Around two or three years ago there were press reports of pneumonic plague among miners in the Congo. But there were never any subsequent news stories (that I saw, at any rate, and I was actively looking for them), which indicates that the disease once again burned out quickly.

But God only knows if it will always remain that way.
I've seen claims over the years that Bubonic Plague and Septicaemic Fever, that dreadful scourge of 19th Century battlefields, are the same thing.

I'm dubious. Can someone with more medical knowledge than I have set me straight on this?

Indeed the really nasty germs like ebola and pneumonic plague are so devastating that they don't spread far. But they would be effective as a biological weapon against large numbers of people in cramped conditions such as rush-hour trains.

And who knows how these and other germs have been engineered and combined in laboratories. Imagine ebola or pneumonic plague with an initial 7 days of relatively mild flu-like symptoms - that would spread like wildfire. Imagine combining the damage-causing genetic components of ebola with the highly infectious capabilities of conventional influenza! This can be done in the lab and who knows who's got it.

Scepticaemic plague occurs when the bubonic plague bacteria Y. Pestis overwhelms the body via the blood causing scepticaemia. This is rare. Much more common is the bubonic form of the disease. So we can probably rule it out as the scourge of 19th Century battlefields. There are a lot of bacteria that produce scepticemia and fever more readily.
Re: Epidemic?

oilwar said:
Indeed the really nasty germs like ebola and pneumonic plague are so devastating that they don't spread far. But they would be effective as a biological weapon against large numbers of people in cramped conditions such as rush-hour trains.

Ebola Zaire the most virulent flavour of Ebola (kills 90% of those infected) is a rather crap bio-agent even if it was 'weaponised' (i.e. stablised to the point where it can fired in a shell/dropped in a bomb) because infection requires fluid contact. In fact the dead body remains a level five bio-hazard because the virus remains active in all fluids even after death.

Ebola Reston however is an aerosol spread flavour but is virtually harmless to humans (but deadly to monkeys). Now the worrying thing is if Ebola Zaire were to mutate into an aerosol version or if some clever biochemist were to develop a hybrid strain and weaponise it. It would be a genuine slate wiping doomsday weapon.
We're all doomed! The Black Death is back! I think there is a thread for this, i'll put it there when the search is working again.

Pneumonic Plague Kills Third Human In Chinese Town
Article Date: 04 Aug 2009 - 2:00 PDT

Authorities in China confirmed that a third man has died of pneumonic plague in Ziketan, Qinghai Province, China. The town has been sealed off. The 64-year-old man lived near the other two men who died, officials said.

Checkpoints have been set up around Ziketan, a town of 10,000 people, while medics disinfect the area. Teams of workers have been sent in to exterminate rats and insects.

Pneumonic plague is caused by Yersina pestis, a bacterial agent that infects the lungs. It is a disease of rodents and their fleas and humans. It can spread from animals to people and from person-to-person. Initial symptoms of pneumonic plague are fever, headache, weakness and a cough which produces bloody or watery sputum. Within two to four days it can cause septic shock. Without early treatment the disease is fatal.

It is caused by the same bacterium as the one that caused the Black Death which killed about 25 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Human-to-human infection occurs through respiratory droplets. To become infected a human needs to have face-to-face contact with a sick person.

If treated early the following antibiotics are effective - streptomycin, tetracycline, and chloramphenicol. Although there is no vaccine, antibiotic treatment for seven days can protect people who have had face-to-face contact with infected people.

In the USA the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classify Yersina pestis as a Category A (high priority) bioterrorism agent.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Chinese authorities for their swift response and for getting the situation under control. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Chinese authorities are being open about this outbreak.

Local media report that so far approximately ten people have become infected. Authorities are urging anyone showing symptoms who has been to the town since the middle of July to seek medical attention immediately.
Cause of the big plague epidemic of Middle Ages identified
October 11th, 2010 in Medicine & Health / Diseases

Geographical position of the five archaeological sites investigated. Green dots indicate the sites. Also indicated are two likely independent infection routes (black and red dotted arrows) for the spread of the Black Death (1347-1353) after Benedictow. ©: PLoS Pathogens

(PhysOrg.com) -- The 'Black Death' was caused by at least two previously unknown types of Yersinia pestis bacteria.

The latest tests conducted by anthropologists at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have proven that the bacteria Yersinia pestis was indeed the causative agent behind the "Black Death" that raged across Europe in the Middle Ages. The cause of the epidemic has always remained highly controversial and other pathogens were often named as possible causes, in particular for the northern European regions. Using DNA and protein analyses from skeletons of plague victims, an international team led by the scientists from Mainz has now conclusively shown that Yersinia pestis was responsible for the Black Death in the 14th century and the subsequent epidemics that continued to erupt throughout the European continent for the next 400 years. The tests conducted on genetic material from mass graves in five countries also identified at least two previously unknown types of Yersinia pestis that occurred as pathogens.

"Our findings indicate that the plague traveled to Europe over at least two channels, which then went their own individual ways," explains Dr. Barbara Bramanti from the Institute of Anthropology of Mainz University. The works, published in the open access journal PLoS Pathogens, now provide the necessary basis for conducting a detailed historical reconstruction of how this illness spread.

For a number of years, Barbara Bramanti has been researching major epidemics that were rampant throughout Europe and their possible selective consequences as part of a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). For the recently published work, 76 human skeletons were examined from suspected mass graves for plague victims in England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. While other infections such as leprosy can be easily identified long after death by the deformed bones, the problem faced in the search for plague victims lies in the fact that the illness can lead to death within just a few days and leaves no visible traces. With luck, DNA of the pathogen may still be present for many years in the dental pulp or traces of proteins in the bones. Even then it is difficult to detect, and may be distorted through possible contamination. The team led by Bramanti found their results by analyzing old genetic material, also known as ancient DNA (aDNA): Ten specimens from France, England, and the Netherlands showed a Yersinia pestis-specific gene. Because the samples from Parma, Italy and Augsburg, Germany gave no results, they were subjected to another method known as immunochromatography (similar to the method used in home pregnancy tests for example), this time with success.

Once the infection with Yersinia pestis had been conclusively proven, Stephanie Hänsch and Barbara Bramanti used an analysis of around 20 markers to test if one of the known bacteria types "orientalis" or "medievalis" was present. But neither of these two types was found. Instead, two unknown forms were identified, which are older and differ from the modern pathogens found in Africa, America, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union regions. One of these two types, which are thought to have contributed significantly to the catastrophic course of the plague in the 14th century, most probably no longer exists today. The other appears to have similarities with types that were recently isolated in Asia.

In their reconstruction, Hänsch and Bramanti show an infection path that runs from the initial transportation of the pathogen from Asia to Marseille in November 1347, through western France to northern France and over to England. Because a different type of Yersinia pestis was found in Bergen op Zoom in the Netherlands, the two scientists believe that the South of the Netherlands was not directly infected from England or France, but rather from the North. This would indicate another infection route, which ran from Norway via Friesland and down to the Netherlands. Further investigations are required to uncover the complete route of the epidemic. "The history of this pandemic," stated Hänsch, "is much more complicated than we had previously thought."

More information: Haensch, S., Bianucci, R., et al. (2010) Distinct Clones of Yersinia pestis Caused the Black Death PLoS Pathog 6(10): e1001134. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001134

Provided by Johannes Gutenberg University
Here's another suggestion for an explanation of the spread of plague: it's the comets.

New Light on the Black Death: The Cosmic Connection

There really is quite sufficient data presented in Baillie's book to support the theory that the Black Death was due to an impact by Comet Debris - similar to the impacts on Jupiter by the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy back in 1994. As to exactly how these deaths occurred, there are a number of possibilities: earthquakes, floods (tsunami), rains of fire, chemicals released by the high-energy explosions in the atmosphere, including ammonium and hydrogen cyanide, and possibly even comet born disease pathogens.

If it has happened as often as Baillie suggests, it can happen again. And if, as we suspect, the Earth is slated for a bombardment in the not too distant future, it seems that there are more ways to die in such an event than just getting hit by a comet fragment.
In line with Escargot's post above, when I began a serious study of the London Plague of 1665 some years ago I was stunned at the number of comets which had been observed over Southern England since the previous December (1664), as well as by the fact that these seem to have been generally accepted as presaging a major pestilence soon to arrive.

Make of this what you will.
Comets have been considered harbingers of doom since ancient times.
Dr Stace Victor Murray Clube (born October 22, 1934 in London) is an English astrophysicist.

He was educated at St John's and Christ Church, Oxford. He played first class cricket for Oxford University.[1]

Clube is a professional astronomer, he has been Dean of the Astrophysics Department of Oxford University and has worked at the observatories of Edinburgh, Armagh and Cape Town.[2]

He is known primarily for his work in collaboration with Bill Napier and others on the theory of "coherent catastrophism"[3] and is an expert on comets and cosmology.


The 'others' include Mike Baillie. 8)
Eight or 10 years ago I attempted to launch a study of Omens - both historical and contemporary-continuing.

Alas, I seemed to be the only person with any interest in the idea.
OldTimeRadio said:
Eight or 10 years ago I attempted to launch a study of Omens - both historical and contemporary-continuing.

Alas, I seemed to be the only person with any interest in the idea.

That is interesting. What aspects are you investigating?
The idea that a few extra trees growing on farmland caused the Little Ice Age is one of the more ridiculous ideas ever to come out of the global warming debate isn't it. I mean, do these people know anything real about climate-science, tree-biology and total area of pre-industrial forestation?
Re the 14thC plague (as opposed to the 1660 one). didn't some people do a study that suggested it wasn't Bubonic Plague at all, but maybe a bad flu-type illness? That would certainly fit the appalling mortality and speed of spread.
Seeing as I'm stuck with a bad flu, I'm somewhat alarmed by the last post. So...Just done a quick search and on the Wiki site, there is a ref. to a publication by JP Byrne stating the symptoms to be very un flu like...

"Contemporary accounts of the plague are often varied or imprecise. The most commonly noted symptom was the appearance of buboes in the groin, the neck and armpits, which oozed pus and bled when opened.[20] - J. P. Byrne, The Black Death (London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004), ISBN 0-313-32492-1, pp. 21-9."

This also available on Bittorrent to download. But an author search to check the credentials of JP lists him as an actor!!!

Phew, pass the Lemsip. Of course, it being Wiki, it could be less than acurate, in which case I've got about two days befor the last post :arrow: http://www.nevilley.pwp.blueyonder.co.u ... tpost.html alarms me


How do you get the words "last post" to work as a hyperlink thingy?
There was the: "Sweating Sickness" that started in 1484.

John Stow in his Survey of London, reports that in this year there were:- "Three sheriffs and three mayors (of London) this year by means of the sweating sickness, etc."

Google it for more information, it may have been a virulent form of influenza.
Plague scientist dies of... the plague
http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/short ... lague.html
17:54 1 March 2011
Debora MacKenzie, reporter

It must be a recurrent nightmare for researchers who work with deadly microbes: being killed by your own research subjects. Microbe hunters know better than anyone else just how nasty infectious disease can be, and they spend much of their professional lives wielding bleach and maintaining stringent lab protocols to keep the objects of their fascination at bay. But sometimes one jumps the fence. Just such a tragedy caused the death in 2009 of Malcolm Casadaban, aged 60, a respected plague researcher at the University of Chicago. But how it did so was a mystery, until now.

Plague has a fearsome reputation, being blamed (unfairly, some believe) for the medieval Black Death. But the bacteria are far harder to catch than many lab pathogens - in nature you must inhale lots of bacteria, or have them injected by a flea bite. The plague bacteria Casadaban was working with were deliberately weakened, and unlike ordinary plague, they aren't even on the US list of potential bioweapons bugs. Medical investigators later found they couldn't even kill mice with the bacteria that killed the scientist.

So how did Casadaban die? It turns out his death was a medical coincidence worthy of the hit TV series House, in which crack diagnosticians try to figure out tough cases. Their patients typically have unusual combinations of conditions, something Casadaban unfortunately fell prey to.

Casadaban's lab bugs were weak because they have trouble taking up iron, which they need to make crucial enzymes. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, Casadaban had haemochromatosis, a genetic disorder in which people accumulate high levels of iron in their blood and organs. When the weakened bacteria somehow hit Casadaban's blood, they suddenly received an influx in iron and regained their strength.

There are several tragedies here, besides the loss of a good scientist. One, the bacteria may have entered his bloodstream because, like many experienced researchers, he occasionally didn't take all the safety precautions, such as rubber gloves. Why bother, with such safe bacteria?

This is one more reminder that nature can bite in ways we don't always expect. Readers, if you work with microbes - wear the gloves. Worse, Casadaban initially went to the doctor with the classic "flu-like symptoms" typical of nearly every early infection, but sought no further treatment. He then went back three days later as it got worse, and was dead 13 hours after that.

The bacteria were only identified when a hospital doctor learned by chance where the patient worked, and someone tested for plague - five days after he died. Yet plague would have been readily curable with the right antibiotics.

Casadaban never told his doctors he worked in a plague lab. Maybe he feared unleashing the kind of panic experienced by other plague scientists over misplaced fears of bioterrorism. Who knows how many unusual afflictions like this are never diagnosed at all?
AngelAlice said:
Re the 14thC plague (as opposed to the 1660 one). didn't some people do a study that suggested it wasn't Bubonic Plague at all, but maybe a bad flu-type illness? That would certainly fit the appalling mortality and speed of spread.

Has any 'flu pandemic in history left the sufferers covered with buboes?
Most importantly, the plague manifests in different ways - if it gives you buboes, it's deemed bubonic plague. It also manifests as septicemic plague, and pneumonic plague.

By the looks of it, pneumonic plague has more flu-like symptoms.
Thie prvious post gives me an opportunity to ask a question that has dogged me for years - Where the 19th Century European outbreaks of Septicemic Plague which were (then) blamed upon decayiing corpses piled high on Napoleonic battlefields caused by Yersinia Pestis, or was this another disease entirely?
Please permit me to ask one more question - to what extent (if any) was the severity of the Black Plague of 1347-1350 made worse by the massive European famine of some 30 years earlier?

Surely many of the Plague victims had grown up terribly under-nourished, and that can't be the best way to face any pandemic.
In answer to that last question I bet it had a massive effect on the susceptibility of the general public to the Black Death. I also wonder if more people migrated to towns* as they couldn't get food from the land and therefore lived in closer proximity to others who fell ill....

*I would need migration data...