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Black Death: The Upside To The Plague Killing Half Of Europe

May 12 2014, 5:54am CDT | by

The Black Death, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, wiped out 30 to 50 percent of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1351. But, this is just the most infamous of the little microbe’s...

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11 weeks ago

Black Death: The Upside To The Plague Killing Half Of Europe

May 12 2014, 5:54am CDT | by

The Black Death, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, wiped out 30 to 50 percent of Europe’s population between 1347 and 1351. But, this is just the most infamous of the little microbe’s shenanigans. Y. pestis, which is one-millionth our size, has caused three major pandemics and continues killing people to this very day. The plague gets such a bad rap because it represents some of the greatest tragedies to ever befall the human race.

Can anything nice be said about the plague? As it turns out, yes. A new analysis by Sharon DeWitte in PLoS ONE suggests a silver lining: Black Death survivors and their descendants were healthier and longer-living, meaning that the plague served as a gigantic natural selection event eliminating many of the weak and frail from the population.

Because so many people died, it was widely assumed that the Black Death killed indiscriminately. But that’s not true. Elderly people and those who were in poor health to begin with were much likelier to die. To be sure, the plague kills healthy people, too. But, as with most infectious diseases, healthy people have a better chance at surviving. Ironically, the Europeans who made it through the Black Death inherited a much better world. Food prices dropped, labor wages increased, and there was a boost in the standard of living.

Dr. DeWitte examined the skeletal remains of 464 pre-Black Death Londoners who died in the 11th to 13th Centuries. She also examined the remains of 133 post-Black Death Londoners who died between 1350 and the mid-16th Century. Given the better standard of living following the Black Death, Dr. DeWitte reasoned that the post-Black Death population should have lived longer. And that’s exactly what she found.

As shown, the survival curve for post-Black Death Londoners was greatly improved compared to the pre-Black Death survival curve. A much greater fraction of the population survived to middle age and beyond.

Once again, the adage, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” turns out to be accurate.

Source: DeWitte SN (2014) Mortality Risk and Survival in the Aftermath of the Medieval Black Death. PLoS ONE 9(5): e96513. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096513

This article was originally published at RealClearScience.

 
Update
10

7 weeks ago

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Jun 9 2014 7:54am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: About RM47 million of contributions in the Teachers Provident Fund (KWSG) still remain unclaimed, the Dewan Rak ...
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Update
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KUALA LUMPUR: AN emergency motion to debate the losses incurred by Malaysia Airlines last year, amounting to RM1.2 billion was rejected by the Dewan ...
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7

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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia spent some RM27.6 million in its first phase of the search operations for missing Malaysia Airline flight MH370, said Acting Transport Mini ...
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Update
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7 weeks ago

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Jun 8 2014 1:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism ministry has seized some 9.1 million litres of diesel and property worth RM58 million since mounting ‘Operasi Diesel Selata ...
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5

7 weeks ago

Girl, 9, awarded RM2.78m compensation for medical negligence

Jun 6 2014 4:56am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: A nine-year-old girl who suffered brain damage during her birth at a government hospital was awarded over RM2.78 million in c ...
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4

7 weeks ago

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Jun 5 2014 11:52pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's total trade in April 2014 rose by 12 per cent from a year ago to RM123.86 billion due to growing trading activities, International Trade and Industr ...
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3

7 weeks ago

Works Ministry to spend RM20m for upgrading works at 50 accident black spots

Jun 4 2014 11:35pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

JOHOR BARU: The Works Ministry will implement upgrading works at 50 accident prone locations in the country that have been identified this year invol ...
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2

7 weeks ago

Najib launches loan scheme for Ramadan traders

Jun 4 2014 10:24pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today launches RM45 million Ramadan Bazaar Scheme ...
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1

8 weeks ago

Residents bring up objection against Kidex to Suhakam

Jun 4 2014 4:49am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PETALING JAYA: A group of 20 Petaling Jaya residents held a meeting with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) over their objection against the proposed RM2.2 billion Kinrara Damansara Skyway ( ...
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