The Great Plague

Dalrymple points out that the Black Death

killed a third to a half of the population of Europe, because, unknown at the time, the disease was carried mainly by a non-human vector.

He notes that the methods used during the Bubonic Plague are being employed today in the face of the China flu outbreak. Containment relies on

  • case-finding
  • contact-tracing
  • isolation or quarantine

Those who have symptoms of the disease, and those who have been in contact with them,

are asked to isolate themselves for two weeks, until they are no longer—according to current ideas—infectious to others. Large gatherings are to be cancelled or postponed, as during the Pestilence of 1347-51, and people are advised to travel as little as possible, especially by public transport, where the possibility of contagion is high. In the 14th century, walls were washed with vinegar and fumigated with burning herbs; we are told to wash our hands often and not to touch our eyes or mouths, though how far this is effective in preventing spread to oneself is unknown.

The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1562

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