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.

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

NASA developing robot troops to explore alien worlds
Washington, Aug 27 (IANS) The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is developing a new troop of robots that could one day race across distant planets as a sort of space exploration vanguard.
 
 
How high altitude affects blood pressure
Washington, Aug 27 (IANS) In a significant find, an expedition to Mount Everest by Italian researchers has shown for the first time that blood pressure monitored over a 24-hour period rises progressively as people climb to higher altitudes.
 
 
Tragic fiction may leave you emotionally upset
New York, Aug 27 (IANS) Do you feel sad after watching a war drama or a documentary about a young person dying of a serious disease? Try reading less dramatic true stories instead.
 
 
A grand wedding, the key to a happy marital life
New York, Aug 27 (IANS) Call more guests to your wedding if you want your marital life to be successful.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Leave Islamabad's protest venue: Pakistan SC
Islamabad, Aug 27 (IANS) In the second such direction, the Supreme Court of Pakistan Wednesday ordered the two parties leading anti-government sit-in protests to clear out of Islamabad's Constitution Avenue area by...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Kanye West's father was paparazzo
Kanye West's father used to be a paparazzo. The 'Bound 2' hitmaker revealed his dad Ray West was a photographer during his deposition last year after paparazzi Daniel Ramos sued the rapper for allegedly attacking him...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston say farewell to Chelsea Handler
Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston and Miley Cyrus were among the stars that joined Chelsea Handler on the final episode of 'Chelsea Lately' last night (26.08.14). The 39-year-old funnywoman - who quit the E! talk show...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Harry Styles gets friendly with rising star Meghan Trainor
Harry Styles has ''good chemistry'' with his new female pal Meghan Trainor. The 20-year-old hunk has got close to the beautiful blonde singer after meeting her in the US during One Direction's 'Where We Are' tour, and...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Johnny Galecki and Kelli Garner split
Johnny Galecki and Kelli Garner have split after more than two years together. The 'Big Bang Theory' actor and 'Pan-Am' star , who were first seen in public together in March 2012, have amicably decided to end their...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Robin Williams rejected $600k Vegas offer
Robin Williams rejected a $600,000 offer to headline two Las Vegas shows two years before his death. The 'Mrs Doubtfire' actor, was found hanged at his home on August 11, turned down the chance to headline two shows at...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Grand Theft Auto makers slam 'publicity-seeking' Lindsay Lohan
The creators of 'Grand Theft Auto V' want Lindsay Lohan to be fined for suing them. Manufacturer Take-Two Interactive has called for the 'Mean Girls' actress' complaint to be dismissed after she claimed they used her...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Natasha Lyonne dating Fred Armisen
Natasha Lyonne and Fred Armisen are reportedly dating. The 'Orange is the New Black' beauty and the 'Easy A' star appeared to make their relationship official after they were spotted looking cosy with one another at the...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Karrueche Tran pokes fun at Blue Ivy's hair
Karrueche Tran has joked that Beyonce and Jay Z don't comb their daughter's hair. The 26-year-old model was hosting an episode of '106 & Park' on BET, in which she and co-host Brandon Broady were discussing the...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
NASA developing robot troops to explore alien worlds
Washington, Aug 27 (IANS) The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is developing a new troop of robots that could one day race across distant planets as a sort of space exploration vanguard. Dubbed...
Read more on Apple Balla