Although on the surface, seem to have been similar, we are not convinced that the epidemic in the 14th century and the present day bubonic plague are the same, says Dr. James Wood, professor of anthropology and demography at Penn State. Old descriptions of disease symptoms are usually too non-specific to be a reliable basis for diagnosis.
The researchers note that it was the symptom of lymphatic swelling that led 19th century bacteriologists to identify the 14th century epidemic as bubonic plague.
The symptoms of the Black Death included high fevers, fetid breath, coughing, vomiting of blood and foul body odor, says Rebecca Ferrell, graduate student in anthropology. Other symptoms were red bruising or hemorrhaging of skin and swollen lymph nodes. Many of these symptoms do appear in bubonic plague, but they can appear in many other diseases as well.
The researchers, who also include Sharon DeWitt-Avina, Penn State graduate student in anthropology, Stephen Matthews and Mark Shriver, both professors in the Population Research Institute at Penn State, and Darryl Holman, assistant professor of anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, are investigating church records and other documents from England to reconstruct the virulence, spacial diffusion and temporal dynamics of the Black Death.
They are looking especially closely at bishops records of the replacement of priests in several English dioceses. Although these records are often incomplete and difficult to interpret, they clearly show that many priests died during the epidemic period of 1349 to 1350.
These records indicate that the spread of the Black Death was more rapid than we formerly believed, Wood told attendees today (April 12) at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physi
Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer