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Black Death and tuberculosis are coming again . . . is your immune system ready?

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Washington, DC (healthnewsreview) ? Diseases like the plague and tuberculosis may soon be coming to your neighborhood. They have been evolving (growing resistant to modern drugs) and waiting for the right circumstances to repeat their Middle Age performance. The time is ripening for an epidemic: cities are densely populated, treatments are becoming ineffective, and huge numbers of people are cloaking themselves with ignorance of science and history. We are seeing a return to superstitious and mistaken health treatments practiced hundreds to thousands of years ago. History has shown that ignoring science and relying on mysticism is deadly. Background

The plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis and known as ?black death? because it causes blood vessels to burst and loose blood to darken the skin (like big bruises). The disease arrived to Italy from the Orient about 1347 and spread quickly and lethally to the rest of Europe -- within two years, it killed ~1/3 of the European population.

Since ~ 1895, we have known that the plague is caused by a bacteria that infects rats. Fleas carry the disease from rats to humans. We now know that public health measures such as hygiene and nutrition have more to do with stopping an epidemic than astrological signs or magic.

However, in the Middle Ages (~1300), people had become disenchanted with science and medicine. The upper classes and the Church disregarded the logical thinking of Greeks, Arabs, and others and instead used religion, magic, and mysticism to structure and guide society and provide answers to life?s mysteries. Those in power chose to deny the rules of science and instead relied on mysterious powers allegedly held by some people. And many people no doubt understood that pretending to have superior powers was the key to fame and fortune (not too different from today).

In 1348, the medical faculty of the University of Paris was asked to prepare a report explaining the cause of the plague. The faculty reported that the combination of positions of Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, together with other astrological signs, were the precursors for the horrible calamity. Unfortunately, magic, mysticism, and astrology were unable to stop the plague.

The belief that supernatural forces (rather than scientific factors) caused the disease led to widespread death and the downfall of the society. Because people believed in fate and determinism, it made no sense to plan for disasters or understand cause and effect. As a result, Europe was not prepared to deal with disease-- they had no adequate public health system, no adequate food storage for emergency supplies, and horrible sanitation and prevention tools.

When the plague struck, Europe was suffering from poor harvests, widespread poverty, and unsanitary and overcrowded conditions. Most people were malnourished, so their immune systems were weak and unable to fight severe infections. There were no real barriers to stop the disease, so the plague was able to quickly spread across all ranks of people (rich and poor). The rich quickly spread the disease among each other, through their servants, travel patterns, and closed society. Prevention and treatment based on mysticism, magic, and astrology were not just worthless, but probably counterproductive. Those groups that took scientific measures to stop the spread of the disease (such as keeping their homes clean to avoid rats) were persecuted. For example, Jewish groups who followed sanitary precautions and apparently were less affected by the plague were viewed with suspicion by the common people. Religious fanatics spread rumors that Jews had poisoned food or water or otherwise caused the plague, even after Pope Clement VI stated that the Jews were not responsible and that they were also dying. The plague killed millions and destroyed the system that allowed it to spread so quickly. Members of the aristocracy, religious leaders, magicians, doctors, and those allegedly skilled in the arts of prediction and control died as frequently (or perhaps even more frequently) than poor and ignorant people. In fact, populations with the greatest genetic variability were more likely to survive than those that intermarried and tried to keep their blue blood pure.

People lost faith in the old authorities: the Church, the Crown, the mystics, the magicians. The plague opened new doors for survivors to move into positions that had been unattainable. The poor suddenly became rich as they inherited property because there was no one else left to receive it. Scientific thinking and public health became acceptable, and Europe woke up from its sleep and grew to become the intellectual giant of the 18th and 19th centuries. A lesson not learned

Today, some groups preach rejection of science, a return to old-fashioned treatments, and reliance on mystical methods, supernatural forces, and philosophies discarded as useless hundreds of years ago. Psychic phone lines are extremely profitable (believed to earn over $100,000,000 per year). Suckers are everywhere, ready to be taken by smarter people who know how to exploit ignorance and the search for easy solutions to complex problems (why else would anyone buy something from an anonymous e-mail that tells you how to get rich or lose weight overnight?). Society has split into those who master high technology and science (a minority) and those who are ignorant and poor (the masses throughout the world). Many countries are breeding populations lead by demagogues that suppress knowledge and education and blame minority groups for their troubles. These countries, with poor public health, overcrowding, and impaired immune systems, are fertile ground for super-organisms, diseases that can wipe out populations in a short time.

The next plague is likely to be a disease like tuberculosis, resistant to known drugs and treatment. It may spread through humans everywhere because it evolved the ability to cross species (long a barrier to quick spread of a disease), travel long distances, or fight modern drugs. Natural barriers are disappearing

We have destroyed most of the natural barriers and enemies to the modern plague-- the forests, the rivers, the predator species, and the long distances that used to protect us. For example: ? Distance. Distance used to be a barrier to disease: the germs could not walk by themselves to decimate distant populations. Now ships and planes carry organisms far away from their natural environments, to places where they face no natural enemies. ? Time. Germs cannot survive indefinitely; they need a host to keep them alive. Modern travel is fast, which makes it more likely that an organisms can survive long distance travel. ? Rivers, oceans, forests, natural barriers, either no longer exist or are easy to bypass. ? Species, depleted. Natural enemies eliminated or restricted to small areas where they can no longer stop invading organisms. 

An epidemic will lower the barriers to penetration by many other species that are slowly taking over their habitants. From rats to insects, mosquitoes to microorganisms, humans will face an onslaught that will spare no one and destroy the framework of society. (For example, South American ants, long controlled by floods and natural enemies, are slowly moving towards the major cities in the US. Eels from Asia are slowly taking over the rivers in the USA.) If a significant proportion of our population dies, the infrastructure (electricity, water, computers) of society will collapse. In the Middle Ages, the survivors were able to rebuild. This time, recovery will be far more difficult-- we no longer have survival skills, we are not accustomed to living off the land, and suitable land no longer exists. We lack a variety of species to rebuild the environment, clean water, and great forests within short distance of our living areas. Not only are we likely to suffer a new plague against which we have few defenses, but a minor epidemic may open the door for the other invaders to attack-- the killer bees, the invasive ants, the genetically changed super-mosquito. In their desperation for solutions, will the crowds turn to the scientists or the mystics?

Moral (healthnewsreview) We need to prepare against the onslaught of disease and pollution that is slowly evolving to attack us. We must take radical measures today if we are to prevent death tomorrow. We must protect the natural barriers for the spread of disease (namely the forests, the oceans, the species). We must educate the population about why things are the way they are and why things happen in certain ways. Knowledge and preparation is our best defense; ignorance is everyone?s enemy (except the scam artists). Ask yourself this question: where there is a serious problem in life, where do I look for solutions? Through use of the scientific method to solve the problem or something else? Remember: ignorance is bliss . . . until you are sick and want the best treatment for your life. References ( The Lord of the Flies. W G Golding. July 1959. Lesney, MS. A plague on all our houses? Modern Drug Discovery. Snager Center web site, (Yersinia genome project). Herlihy, D. The Black Death and the Transformation of the West; Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA, 1997. Hirst, L.F. The Conquest of Plague: A Study in the Evolution of Epidemiology; Clarendon Press: Oxford, U.K., 1953. History of Western Civilization: the Black Death. This material is merely an opinion; it is not advice and should not be used for any purpose other than entertainment. By reading or using the information contained in or implied by this article, you agree that the content provider shall not be liable for any content errors, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. This information likely contains material errors. Use of this information is subject to the disclaimer and the terms and conditions at FREE educational essentialfats bookmarks by mail with summary reminders of nutrition and health. Makes a great gift! Send a self addressed stamped envelope with 37c stamp for 1 oz (up to 7 bookmarks); 60c for 2 oz (up to 14 bookmarks) to PO Box 10187, Gaithersburg MD 20898. Write a note indicating how many bookmarks you want. Quantities limited; offer subject to availability. ? 2000 Edward Siguel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 1999 Edward N. Siguel. All Rights Reserved

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