Black Death Symptoms: See If You Have The Bubonic Plague Right Now

Published February 14, 2018

Are you experiencing black death symptoms? The Bubonic Plague isn't nearly as prevalent as it used to be, but it's not completely eradicated.

Black Death Symptoms

Wikimedia CommonsBubonic Plague symptoms.

Black Death symptoms commonly include enlarged and painful lymph nodes due to swelling, chills, fever, vomiting, headache, and muscle aches. But not to worry, if these symptoms are present they only suggest the potential presence of the Bubonic Plague.

The Flu may be the current sweetheart of infectious diseases these days, but don’t underestimate the underdog.

The Bubonic plague, which got the name Black Death after there was a pandemic outbreak out of it in Europe during the middle ages, is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria known as Yersinia pestis. It is transmitted to humans through fleas that have fed on infected rats.

While today’s Black Death symptoms may be similar to those of the Flu, the signs and symptoms during the outbreak in Europe in the 14th century were a bit different. These symptoms included bleeding below the skin which caused the swollen areas of the body to darken, hence the name Black Death. Another common symptom was gangrene on the nose, toes, and fingers. Then there was the run of the mill fever, sore muscles, and vomiting.

Europe Black Death

Wikimedia CommonsDepiction of the Black Death in Florence. 1348.

It is estimated that the pandemic of the Bubonic Plague in Europe was so bad it wiped out about nearly 60% of the population. Researchers believe that equates to around 50 million dead. It began in 1334 with the majority of the deaths occurring between then and 1351.

At the time nobody including doctors knew what caused the disease or how to treat it. Most treatments were various concoctions of different herbs and roots. After contracting the disease, victims tended to live for just two to four days.

A resurgence of the Bubonic Plague occurred in the late 1800s when there were outbreaks of the disease in China and India. Though it wasn’t as severe as the European outbreaks, there were still an estimated 50,000-125,000 people infected. Approximately 80% of these cases were fatal.

In the early 1900s, the plague had reached the U.S, hitting San Fransisco and other parts of Northern California.

On the bright side, this modern version of the Bubonic Plague carried insight with it as well. Two scientists in Hong Kong were able to culture the bacteria, leading to the discovery that it was transmitted by rodents through flea bites. They also couldn’t be any old flea, but a specific type, aptly named rat fleas. Subsequent treatments followed.

Rat Flea

Wikimedia Commons A rat flea.

The Bubonic Plague does still exist. The World Health Organization provides helpful prevention tips like “take precautions against flea bites,” and don’t “handle animal carcasses.”

However, you should note that there is no vaccine.

But don’t worry. There are only about five to 10 cases in the U.S each year, and it can be treated with antibiotics. Like most sicknesses, the antibiotics are most effective when given early in the course of the disease. Black Death symptoms develop between two to seven days after a person is infected.

The reason most of the deaths happen today is that the disease is so rare, doctors don’t recognize it right away.

So if you notice any of these Black Death symptoms, you should probably talk to a doctor. Better safe than sorry.


Next, read about the Medieval Dancing Plague of 1518. Then take a look at 5 diseases whose origins medical experts got entirely wrong.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City.
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