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Researchers: Rats Didn't Spread Black Death, Humans Did

samzenpus posted about 6 months ago | from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-rats? dept.

Medicine 135

concertina226 (2447056) writes "Scientists studying the human remains of plague victims found during excavations for London's new Crossrail train line have concluded that humans spread the Black Death rather than rats, a fact that could rewrite history books. University of Keele scientists, working together with Crossrail's lead archaeologist Jay Carver and osteologists from the Museum of London, analyzed the bones and teeth of 25 skeletons dug up by Crossrail. They found DNA of Yersinia pestis, which is responsible for the Black Death, on the teeth of some of the victims."

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Zombies? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614433)

Obviously.

Re:Zombies? (2)

JMJimmy (2036122) | about 6 months ago | (#46614583)

Or maybe they were just eating rat?

Re:Zombies? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614917)

Phooey! Where's the Climate Change connection /slash/ insinuation?? You can't just put out science articles without a CCAGWPAB (people are bad) connection! C'mon... it could be anything! "Due to medieval humans' increasing burning of wood" or "methane generated by pet rats" or "blacksmith emissions"... Citation: Yersinia pestis polaris ursus sepsis migration to higher or lower latitudes (whichever is worse) due to the (insert human causation factor) as a function of (something that loses the data in the statistical noise).

I'm koo koo for Climate Change!
Help! I'm not Catholic! It's the only guilt I have

~This Climate Troll paid for by (insert evil corporation)

Re:Zombies? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615131)

That post was very reasonable. Please mod up! What the hell is the matter with you people?

Re:Zombies? (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 6 months ago | (#46615479)

"Or maybe they were just eating rat?"

People were keeping coins in the mouth, harder for pickpockets to get at, so at every transaction, you got the pest for free.

Re:Zombies? (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about 6 months ago | (#46616769)

"Or maybe they were just eating rat?"

People were keeping coins in the mouth, harder for pickpockets to get at, so at every transaction, you got the pest for free.

Wasn't that ancient Greece? I mean, really. Or did they keep coins in their mouths in the middle ages too?

Re:Zombies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615485)

One slice of rat tart without so much rat in it...

Re:Zombies? (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about 6 months ago | (#46615887)

One slice of rat tart without so much rat in it...

Well, we have spam spam spam spam spam rat tart spam eggs and spam, that not got as much rat in it!

Re:Zombies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614975)

Rats are not that cruel

Zombies (2)

Garybaldy (1233166) | about 6 months ago | (#46614445)

That black death was actually zombies. The teeth says it all.

Old News (5, Informative)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 6 months ago | (#46614459)

Scientists discovered this at least 6 years ago when I watched a documentary about it, and most likely quite a bit before that.

Re:Old News (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614649)

it's not binary.

the fact that some transmission was not by rats does NOT imply
that no transmission was done by rats.

Re:Old News (4, Informative)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | about 6 months ago | (#46614951)

"the fact that some transmission was not by rats does NOT imply
that no transmission was done by rats."

What it DOES imply is that no matter who does the research or what the conclusion there is going to be disagreement from armchair scientists and contrarians on Slashdot.

Re:Old News (1)

hoboroadie (1726896) | about 6 months ago | (#46615153)

I am absolutely not going to RTFA or google this, but but aren't bubonic plague and pneumonic plague caused by the same bacteria, Y. pestis? I sat in an armchair about 30 years back and figured out that fleas could never vector out the fatality rate that history indicates. Even if most folks were living like rats at the time. BTW the survival rate is far lower for the pneumonic variety.

Re:Old News (5, Funny)

letherial (1302031) | about 6 months ago | (#46615529)

We know you wont google it in a house with a mouse, but would you google it in a car, or a plane? how about in a box, with a fox? You may like it you will see, how about in a tree?

Re:Old News (2)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 6 months ago | (#46615951)

Dr Zeus I presume.

Re:Old News (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615295)

give me a break. we know that some plague was carried by rats/fleas.
you're enacting the meta version of your comment: no matter how clearly
correct the comment, some snark will launch a irrelevant attack.

personally, i'm tired of the "science" posted on slashdot that is some
teeny tiny little addition to what we know that is blown up to imply
it is earth shattering.

Re:Old News (1)

OneAhead (1495535) | about 6 months ago | (#46616357)

In what way is parent a troll? I would have modded it "insightful".

Re:Old News (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46616995)

dare to disagree with the self-important -> troll.
capcha: excuse.

Re:Old News (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 6 months ago | (#46614761)

Scientists discovered this at least 6 years ago when I watched a documentary about it, and most likely quite a bit before that.

I also recall reading about this years ago. Iceland was mentioned as a solid case of anti-rat evidence. Rats did not live there (and mostly still don't) but the Black Death still wiped out much of the population of Reykjavik.

Re:Old News (2)

BitZtream (692029) | about 6 months ago | (#46614799)

Rats did not live there (and mostly still don't)

Hahahah yea, sure they don't.

There are rats on Antarctica, someone in Iceland is just living in denial.

Where people go, rats and roaches go.

Re:Old News (1)

gslj (214011) | about 6 months ago | (#46616833)

Rats did not live there (and mostly still don't)

Hahahah yea, sure they don't.

There are rats on Antarctica, someone in Iceland is just living in denial.

Where people go, rats and roaches go.

Just for your information, there are no rats in Alberta [gov.ab.ca] . That may be a good place to go if bubonic plague breaks out again.

-Gareth

Re:Old News (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about 6 months ago | (#46614865)


if( $place->visited->means == 'ship' )
    $rats->present = TRUE;

Re:Old News (3, Funny)

knightghost (861069) | about 6 months ago | (#46614919)

I have neither rats nor cockroaches where I live. Well, at least not counting the politicians.

Re:Old News (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615255)

This is true, and the comment didn't claim there are *none*... but your argument is ignoring population levels.

You cannot compare the numbers of rats that breed in Iceland and Antarctica (due to ships bringing them) with the numbers of rats you'll find in places like .

To bring it back to the article, for the disease to have spread to the whole population by *rats alone* would mean that inland from the ports you'll find rats, which in Iceland is not true. You can argue the rats infected the food supply - but....that would be the *food* supply that infected the people inland, and not rats directly.

Indirect != direct cause.

Its like claiming Monkeys caused the HIV epidemic in humans - maybe the first few infections but after that, no, it was human-to-human contact that did it.

Re:Old News (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about 6 months ago | (#46615363)

You keep right on refuting arguments I didn't make. I'll get the popcorn.

Re:Old News (1)

hoggoth (414195) | about 6 months ago | (#46616371)

> the numbers of rats you'll find in places like .

I think this is the first time I've seen Unix "." used to mean "the current location" in the common English sense of the phrase. Kudos to you, sir! Now I will go ~ and smoke my |

Re:Old News (1)

Caesar Tjalbo (1010523) | about 6 months ago | (#46616795)

Scientists discovered this at least 6 years ago when I watched a documentary about it, and most likely quite a bit before that.

It's highly unlikely it was discovered when you were watching the documentary. "Quit a bit before that" seems a good guess.

Virus? Plague? (4, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46614473)

Now I'm not sure they got even the disease right! How am I supposed to believe they got the minutiae of the actual new findings right?

Re:Virus? Plague? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614493)

Now I'm not sure they got even the disease right! How am I supposed to believe they got the minutiae of the actual new findings right?

Exactly. Yersinia pestis is a bacterium, not a virus. If they can't get basic facts straight, how good is the rest of the article?

Re:Virus? Plague? (2)

RDW (41497) | about 6 months ago | (#46614601)

There's a better article on the UK Channel 4 site (C4 will broadcast the documentary):

http://www.channel4.com/info/p... [channel4.com]

Re:Virus? Plague? (5, Informative)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46614857)

At the risk of sounding pretentious, that page doesn't list anything I haven't already known for years - in fact, anyone interested in the Black Death should be already aware of all these things.

We've known that some casualties were not bubonic but pneumonic cases, as well as that some were septicemic instead - even the contemporaries were aware of the three distinct forms of the disease, as manifested by their different symptoms, even if they misunderstood its bacterial underpinnings. We've also known that besides primary pneumonic plague (acquired through inhalation), there's secondary pneumonic plague that happens whenever Yersinia pestis spreads into a bubonic or septicemic plague victim's lungs through the bloodstream.

Claiming that we found out that "Rats Didn't Spread Black Death, Humans Did" feels like disingenous piece of reporting, though, because one of the hallmarks of pneumonic plague is its much more rapid onset and considerable lethality (about half the time it takes for bubonic plague to kill you, or something like that?). Within a town, it's entirely possible that the spread of pneumonic plague overtook bubonic plague whenever it got established, but the "spread" of Black Death was global, and the typical progress of pneumonic plague put it at a serious disadvantage when it came to long-distance travel (especially on ships). So chances are that in many, if not most places removed from other places (towns, regions, countries, continents), the primary pneumonic cases were "jumpstarted" by a case secondary pneumonic plague infection resulting from an infected flea bite. (At least, that's how I interpreted the smart books.)

Re:Virus? Plague? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 6 months ago | (#46615155)

At the risk of seeming pretentious, the entire article is a crock. Y. pestis is a bacterium, not a virus. As has been mentioned, this is a well known hypothesis and the new information might expand that, but there is not way to determine that from TFA.

Note to editors: The International Business Times is a poor source for scientific news.

Re:Virus? Plague? (1)

OneAhead (1495535) | about 6 months ago | (#46616481)

The International Business Times is a poor source for scientific news.

No kidding. There's no citation or link to a research paper, or mention of a conference where the researchers presented their findings. Not even a link to a university press release (not that that would count for much; those are often written by PR people who don't have a clue what they're talking about). All they have is "The scientists' work will be featured in the documentary Secret History: The Return of the Black Death". What it looks like is that the documentary makers explain how the archaeologists' findings are consistent with the long-known phenomenon of pneumonic plague, and that some medically/historically/journalistically challenged person mistook a summary of a documentary for "news".

Re:Virus? Plague? (4, Funny)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 6 months ago | (#46615405)

Cut the researchers some slack - it's a simple misunderstanding. One of these guys went to the dentist and was told they had plaque on their teeth.

Re:Virus? Plague? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615889)

I saw a documentary years ago in which a researcher was looking to prove his theory that the Black Death was in fact an influenza wave.

actually, it was the fleas. (5, Informative)

somepunk (720296) | about 6 months ago | (#46614487)

Pneumonic plague being transmitted by air isn't news. It's a form of the disease that gets into your lungs, after all. Also, the primary vector isn't rats at all, but fleas, which often go directly from person to person.

The article's credibility is not helped at all when it mentions the plague virus, when it is actually caused by a bacterium.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 6 months ago | (#46614615)

You know, I clicked on the story, saw that the link is from "ibtimes", and then your comment. Led me to guess it must be samzenpus.

I suppose consistency is a virtue of a sort.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (5, Informative)

hey! (33014) | about 6 months ago | (#46614643)

Person who worked for years in arthropod borne disease control here.

Except for the reporting screw-up about virus vs. bacteria, this is all just quibbling. The reporters got it wrong as usual, but that doesn't mean that the researchers got it wrong.

Zoonotic diseases (ones that spills over from one animal population to another) always have fantastically complex life cycles. In epidemics of zoonotic diseases it's common for epizootic transmission (transmission between species) to be overtaken by enzootic transmission (transmission *within* a species). For example influenza is a bird pathogen that can cross over into mammalian species like swine and humans. If flu epidemics didn't shift gears from epizootic transmission (bird to human) to enzootic (human to human), they wouldn't be as big a deal. Just stay away from chickens.

So the idea that the black plague was primarily spread among humans enzootically is hardy groundbreaking epidemiology. It certainly doesn't mean that it's not dangerous to live in a place infested with plague-ridden rats. But the shift to enzootic transmission is something that's a bit different from the mosquito or tick borne diseases or occasional, isolated epizootic plague infections we're largely familiar with today.

It's a neat finding, in that it wasn't necessarily expected, but it makes sense in retrospect. In something like West Nile Virus, the natural focus of the pathogen is migratory bird populations that fly thousands of miles. But while a rat can hop on a ship and travel thousands of miles, the vast majority of rats spend their entire lives in a radius of a few hundred feet. Humans are much more mobile than rats; even if a few rats hitch a ride on a ship, they never go anywhere far *without* humans.

What's simplistic is the assumption there has to be only *one* factor involved in a zoonotic epidemic. Without epizootic transmission the plague would not have happened in the first place. That's not news. Without human-to-human enzootic transmission it would not have spread so widely or kill such a high percentage of the population. That is news (I guess -- I didn't work with people doing plauge so I have no direct knowledge of what people in that field thought). Of course before it becomes established science it's going to have to stand up to criticism for a few years.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | about 6 months ago | (#46614669)

Doesn't it kind of muddle things that people dislike rats so much they won't admit bubonic plague disappeared along with brown (Norway) rats replacing the black rats that transmitted the disease?

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 6 months ago | (#46614777)

Doesn't it kind of muddle things that people dislike rats so much they won't admit bubonic plague disappeared along with brown (Norway) rats replacing the black rats that transmitted the disease?

You're being close-minded here. They transported the fleas that was one vector for transmitting the disease.

And what's with "won't admit"? Who's denying? Or do you mean they won't admit that that is enough evidence for a cause and effect conclusion? No, they won't admit that, because that would be rather unscientific.

How about other factors like improvements in sanitation and transportation?

Who gives a rats ass how you feel about rats. It doesn't do anything to illuminate history.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | about 6 months ago | (#46615111)

Well, it's rather a simple chain to follow. Black rats were associated with the plague. Brown rats replaced them, plague stopped. Still, the common wisdom still seems to remain "rats" were responsible for spreading the disease, sanitation measures, that apparently arrived after the disease was already gone, getting the credit. Even "transportation improvements", apparently, although those would tend to spread it more.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (4, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | about 6 months ago | (#46615347)

Well, the Norway (aka "brown") rats are carriers of an almost incredible variety of infectious agents that are human pathogens, including hantavirus and Toxoplasma.

The issue with rats isn't that they're *particularly* susceptible to zoonotic pathogens. The issue is that they're well adapted to living around human habitations,which provide them with excellent protection from predation. With plenty food and shelter and no predators, they reach unnaturally high population concentrations. These populations are "preyed upon" by germs instead of carnivores, because inevitably everything in nature is food for something else. Some of those pathogens will also effect humans, and since those dense colonies are living in close proximity to dense colonies of *humans*, brown rats present a public health concern, even though none of their pathogens have quite the marquee name recognition of The Black Death.

Another example of this phenomenon is the raccoon. Because raccoons are still frequently encountered in natural settings people don't have the same revulsion towards them as they do towards rats, but raccoons are just as well adapted to living with humans as rats are. In places where high raccoon populations live in close proximity to humans, they're a serious health concern. I've known natural science geeks -- people who have no qualms about handing dead animals or picking through animal scat -- to treat suburban raccoons with revulsion. A suburban raccoon can be a terrifying bag of disease, and there are documented cases of people dying as a result of handling their poop.

It doesn't mean racoons are *bad*, or that rats are *bad*. It means that wild animal populations with nearly unlimited resources and no predation are an all-you-can-eat banquet for germs.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

Mabhatter (126906) | about 6 months ago | (#46616275)

add to that in the typical medieval house and even castle it was very difficult to keep the rats out of the human food supply and tracking their dirty little feet and germs everywhere. That's why cupboards and barrels and pot and other stuff were invented to keep the critters out. all those critters crawling all over had to be spreading germs even when people thought their house was "clean".

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

jfengel (409917) | about 6 months ago | (#46616413)

Ya know... this is why I come to Slashdot: the comments that are more informative than the article. Doesn't happen often enough these days. Thank you.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | about 6 months ago | (#46616815)

Interesting arguments. And not all hollow, though I would have used typhus as an example. Just because an animal can be infected by a disease doesn't always mean it is a credible source for transmission to humans. Or that they serve as a reservoir for other animals to catch it. Perhaps Norway rats "can" carry hantaviruses, but the CDC page is quite specific about the rodents that pose a threat to humans carrying it; deer mice one strain, white footed mice another, a third wild "rice rats" and "cotton rats". Toxoplasmosis pretty much isn't spread by anything except felines, though, or eating an infected animal raw. The emphasis seems to be using the vague association of whole groups of economically or otherwise pestiferous animals with specific diseases as an excuse to campaign against noninvolved species, rather than as an honest evaluation of the amount of risk that might be mitigated by removing the animals involved. Raccoon roundworm poses a threat of causing human brain damage, but the simple fact is it mostly doesn't happen, while rodents that catch it can be debilitated for easy catching by the raccoons, and presumably often are. The threat of rat lungworm infection is also very scary as a rationale for controlling giant African snails in Florida, while the cases seem to amount to one man in Australia who swallowed live slugs on a bet; few people go around licking up African snail slime trails. Even relatively tiny numbers of sparsely scattered wolves are attacked as a threat by people using the scary possibilities of carrying the common dog tapeworm, while it is present in the much more dense dog and sheep populations, clearly an excuse for people who don't like wolves, period. Even the article linked to uses a domesticated version of a Norway rat as an illustration, though it isn't actually blaming the disease on "rats". It implies a shared blame, at least the possibility, with little or nothing to go on.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 6 months ago | (#46615549)

Well, it's rather a simple chain to follow. Black rats were associated with the plague. Brown rats replaced them, plague stopped.

Where's the link between the two? How do you prove a cause and effect? Other things also happened at the same time. I'm not saying that this couldn't be the case, but I am saying that we need some evidence before concluding that this is the cause. Circumstantial evidence can be correct, but it can also be wrong.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (2)

hey! (33014) | about 6 months ago | (#46614837)

Well, I'm not sure what "people" you are talking about, but if you're talking about "researchers", the answer would be "no". Researchers are definitely not representative of general population of what they "like" and "dislike".

Two war stories follow.

Some researchers in a tropical medicine discovered that a mens room at the school had been infested with tiny little flies. Did they complain to the management? No. They trapped some of the flies, brought them back to the lab and bred them as pets.

I was walking in the woods one day with a zoologist friend of mine, when we came upon a rotting coyote head in the middle of the trail. "Ooh!" she says, "I want to show that to my students!" Whereupon she picks up the head, maggot-ridden eyeholes and all, and pops it into the pocket of her windbreaker.

So no, I don't think anti-rat bias is a problem for researchers.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about 6 months ago | (#46616785)

I was walking in the woods one day with a zoologist friend of mine, when we came upon a rotting coyote head in the middle of the trail. "Ooh!" she says, "I want to show that to my students!" Whereupon she picks up the head, maggot-ridden eyeholes and all, and pops it into the pocket of her windbreaker.

How big was the dry-cleaning bill?

Calls to mind the story of the young Darwin, who was faced with containing three beetles when he had only two hands. He put the third one in his mouth.

And I tip my hat to your zoologist companion.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

jez9999 (618189) | about 6 months ago | (#46615357)

So the idea that the black plague was primarily spread among humans enzootically is hardy groundbreaking epidemiology. It certainly doesn't mean that it's not dangerous to live in a place infested with plague-ridden rats. But the shift to enzootic transmission is something that's a bit different from the mosquito or tick borne diseases or occasional, isolated epizootic plague infections we're largely familiar with today.

What I don't quite get is, if the plague was spread from human to human, how anyone survived. It seems to have spready readily, and killed pretty much everyone who got it, so how did anyone live past it? They didn't know about micro-organisms back then so presumably quarantining wasn't an idea they had; they probably just thought God was striking a bunch of people down. Or did 30% of the population just have immunity to it?

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

hey! (33014) | about 6 months ago | (#46615489)

Well, for one thing the fatality rate is less than 100%. And the infection rates were less than 100% too. Were the infection and fatality rates 100%, the epidemic would quickly burn itself out. You can set up a differential equation describing this situation: the rate of transmission is proportional to the chance of transmission and how frequently an infected person encounters an uninfected person. But that frequency of contact drops as populations are decimated, so that a particularly aggressive strain soon finds itself dealing with a host population to sparse to maintain itself.

In fact plague *did* kill everyone in many isolated places. Some villages were entirely wiped out by aggressive infections, but if you think about it, the strains that killed everyone quickly were doomed to extinction. There's an optimal level of virulence if you want to spread a pathogen as far and wide as possible.

Consider tuberculosis, which is *highly* transmittable between humans and unlike plague does not require an arthropod vector for transmission. Why hasn't tuberculosis wiped out everyone? Well it *has*, many, many times, wiped out all the humans in small, isolated communities. In fact some scholars have speculated that the vampire legend arose from the spread of virulent strains of TB that wiped out small, rural populations. But in a large population the emergence of an aggressive strain still isn't going to get everyone. Some people will escape infection by chance, and people will flee the area. It's the slow-burning, persistent strains that take months or years to kill someone that have the best chance of surviving long term.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 6 months ago | (#46616831)

The word quarantine comes from the italian "quaranta giorni" (40 days) which was a requirement that ships wishing to land at Venice stand isolated offshore for forty days. The policy was enacted to try to stop the spread of a new disease (from the Orient) that had shown up in Venice. It was too late by that time, and the disease went on to kill a third of the population of Europe and became known as the black death.

Beyond that, particularly virulent disease are often self-quarantining. They kill off everyone in an area (a neighbourhood or a village) and can't jump to the next area because of a lack of carriers. Plague was so successful because it could exist in rats then jump to humans. The rat reservoir could be transported long distances (between outbreak centres).

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615545)

Person who worked for years in arthropod borne disease control here.

[...]

It's a neat finding, in that it wasn't necessarily expected, but it makes sense in retrospect.

Is everybody insane? Just read Albert Camus, "La Peste" (written in 1947). It describes in detail how the development from bubonic plague to pneumonic plague creates the human-human transmission path with a quite higher lethality rate and spread.

While Camus takes care to get the medical stuff correct, the focus is on the psychology. He certainly was not going to propose any groundbreaking new medical theories. He just works carefully with what was known at the time.

I am flabbergasted that this is now considered news in any way.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | about 6 months ago | (#46616181)

AFAICR, Albert Camus was not American.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

OneAhead (1495535) | about 6 months ago | (#46616421)

Huh? Did anybody imply he was? Or is this some kind of joke about Americans being generally ignorant about historical backgrounds?

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 6 months ago | (#46615855)

Humans are much more mobile than rats

As a species yes, but much like rats - individuals not so much during the era of the Black Death.
 

Without human-to-human enzootic transmission it would not have spread so widely or kill such a high percentage of the population.

That's a stretch not clearly supported by the available evidence. That the pneumonic form that's spread human-to-human contributed has long been known, but the widest spread and most deaths came from the the rat borne bubonic form.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

hey! (33014) | about 6 months ago | (#46616547)

Well, whole the point of the article is that the pneumonic transmission may have been responsible for more fatalities in the Black Death than previously thought. In any case, it's the same infectious agent, different tissues infected. So Y. pestis can be vectored as bubonic plague and then subsequently spread as pneumonic plague -- or vice versa. That's my understanding, although as I said elsewhere I've never worked on plauge projects so I may be wrong. But it doesn't seem like much of a stretch given poor hygeine and general health at the time that both types of infection should descend from a common index case.

The mobility of the *typical* rat vs the *typical* human is neither here nor there. It's the absolute number of humans and rats on the move, and clearly there were plenty of both. The main issue with people moving from place to place transmitting Y. pestis pneumonically is the rapidity with which humans succumb to such an infection. But the great London plague of the mid 1600s came over from Netherlands, which is a much different matter than transmitting an epidemic from Cathay to Rome.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

budgenator (254554) | about 6 months ago | (#46614791)

Wikipedia has a good article on pneumonic plague, I'm sure that not "all" the victims were of the pneumonic form as the disease often starts in a population in the bubonic form frequently spread by fleas [wikipedia.org] which can progress into the more contagious and more virulent pneumonic form; so while rats and rat fleas don't get the sole blame, they still get their share.

Re:actually, it was the fleas. (1)

WinstonWolfIT (1550079) | about 6 months ago | (#46616369)

I'd always heard rats carried fleas, not that they were the primary vector, and this is something I've carried around in my head for decades. So, even when quarantined, it was still a nasty situation of not really being able to completely contain the spread.

as good christians we share everything (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614489)

except our secrets http://www.youtube.com/results... [youtube.com] about our history of hysteria & low motive conquest http://www.youtube.com/results... [youtube.com]

Maybe (4, Informative)

dreamchaser (49529) | about 6 months ago | (#46614491)

The plague can take 3 forms, at least one of which, pneumonic, infects the lungs and spreads through the air, much like the common cold does. Just because humans had a role in helping to spread it doesn't leave the rats and their fleas off the hook. It is still quite likely that there were multiple vectors combined that caused the rapid spread of the disease.

"Found Yersinia Pestis DNA on victim's teeth" (4, Insightful)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 6 months ago | (#46614513)

Famine was widespread. Perhaps this one group unearthed during construction developed a taste for the rat.

Not normally considered a delicacy, when it's rat or nothing, well, sorry Templeton.

Re:"Found Yersinia Pestis DNA on victim's teeth" (1)

chmod a+x mojo (965286) | about 6 months ago | (#46616177)

It could even be more simple than that; I don't remember 100% about the plague era history, but if I remember correctly near end symptoms were vomiting and swelling / cracking of the tongue. In both cases there is high probability that bacterium from the bloodstream would come in contact with the persons teeth. If you really want to get down to it, many victims were buried in mass graves and it is possible that there was cross contamination due to higher level corpses buboes rupturing when they had been tossed into the grave.

I do agree that rat > flea > human is not the only infection vector, after all, there was plenty of human > human contact in the incubation periods. Infected human > flea > human ( day to day life / brothel visiting ETC) would spread much faster due to larger amounts of contact, yet you would still need an original instigator action (the rat carriers).

This is all ignoring the fact of the Pnuemonic variants of the plague as well...

Terrible article (1)

Dan East (318230) | about 6 months ago | (#46614529)

What a terribly written article. What did the later deaths in the early 1900s have to do with the medieval plague? Did they find DNA on the victims from the 1900s or from the actual plague outbreak? What does DNA on the teeth have to do with and what does it indicate? Totally worthless crap article, through and through.

It hinges on a single premise. (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 6 months ago | (#46614581)

You have to re-read it at least twice to pick it up, as the connection with other points is very weak.

"As an explanation for the Black Death in its own right, [bubonic plague spread by rat fleas] simply isn't good enough. It cannot spread fast enough from one household to the next to cause the huge number of cases that we saw during the Black Death epidemics," said Public Health England's Dr Tim Brooks.

I.e. Flees are not a fast enough vector. It must have been something faster.
Enter airborne plague. And the 1906 case as an example of how fast it moves.
And the presence of "DNA of Yersinia pestis" on the teeth of the corpses of the people from the period, as a proof that they COULD HAVE been spreading it with their breath. Too.

The find actually does not exclude fleas, it only (maybe) provides proof for YET ANOTHER vector - that we already knew of.

Indeed a terrible article.

Re:It hinges on a single premise. (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about 6 months ago | (#46614611)

ah, so if true we rename the disease the Black Breath

Re:It hinges on a single premise. (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 6 months ago | (#46614671)

I think you mean "evidence", not "proof". Proof concludes, evidence is fuel for theories.

Otherwise, spot on. Give that man a karma cookie!

Re:It hinges on a single premise. (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 6 months ago | (#46614813)

I was talking in the "spirit of the article".

Which, lest we forget, is titled "Rats Didn't Spread Black Death, Humans Did, Say Researchers".

Re:Terrible article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614755)

You should probably blame the editor, not the writer.

Re:Terrible article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615003)

ibtimes, what do you expect.

From the "Blame Humans for Everything" Movement (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614597)

That's all this is - anti-Human propaganda from the self-loathing, guilt-ridden left.

Re:From the "Blame Humans for Everything" Movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614621)

It had to happen. Someone made this into a political issue. Astounding.

Re:From the "Blame Humans for Everything" Movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614751)

Poe's Law...

Re:From the "Blame Humans for Everything" Movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615179)

Mashugana!

One excludes the other? (2)

houghi (78078) | about 6 months ago | (#46614625)

Sicne when does one exclude the other?

Onky SOME had the DNA. What about the others?
From what I remeber goint to school. The rats hellped spreading the plague, because they had access to the homes and the cities. This ment that even closing the doors and even city gates did not stop the spreading.

It might have slowed it down a little bit, but rats (or rather the fleas on the rats) still had access to the humans.
Then when it was inside a house or a city, contact between huimans helped spreading it further and faster.

I am sure if you look further, dogs might have had fleas as well and thus also spread it.

Re:One excludes the other? (1)

RazorSharp (1418697) | about 6 months ago | (#46616129)

This is pretty spot on. The whole issue appears to be the tendency of some people to try and condense the truth into a general statement, such as, "fleas on rats spread the bubonic plague." Of course the truth is more complex and may not be fully understood, but I don't think serious scholars ever asserted that fleas on rats were the only mechanism by which the disease was spread. The important part of the theory was that fleas on rats on boats brought the bacteria from China to Europe and then facilitated its spread.

Re:One excludes the other? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 6 months ago | (#46616865)

We live in a world of sound bites. Sorry, tweets.

Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614633)

Of course the plague was spread by humans. Otherwise you would have to conclude that rats walked all over continental Europe over the course of a few years.

Re:Duh (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 6 months ago | (#46614807)

Of course the plague was spread by humans. Otherwise you would have to conclude that rats walked all over continental Europe over the course of a few years.

While I'm pretty certain that humans were a main vector in spreading the plague, your "otherwise" doesn't hold water.
It's enough that rats move enough to get in contact with other rats. And they do. They have overlapping and somewhat fluid territories, and young rats without a territory needs to go find one.

Re:Duh (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 6 months ago | (#46614833)

There are many historic examples of the black plague apparently spreading by ship. Nothing proven, but strong circumstantial evidence. City 1 has plague. Ship arrives from city1 at city2. Shortly thereafter the first case of plague happens in city2.

Most likely rats on the ship.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46616013)

There are many historic examples of the black plague apparently spreading by ship. Nothing proven, but strong circumstantial evidence. City 1 has plague. Ship arrives from city1 at city2. Shortly thereafter the first case of plague happens in city2.

Most likely rats on the ship.

Yeah, because there were only rats on the ship, no humans. I get your logic. It must have been the rats...

Re:Duh (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 6 months ago | (#46616877)

The pneumonic form of plague is faster. Even flea-mediated transmission between people would likely produce obviously sick or dead crew before a ship reached its destination.

The plague was so insidious because the bacteria could live in an animal reservoir (rats carried on ships) and ALSO spread quickly between people. The rats carried it long distances, such as on sea voyages, then infected people, who then infected other people.

The victor writes the history books. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46614841)

Man won the Great Rodent War centuries ago. To the victor goes the spoils and the ability to write the history books away way we please including blaming a plague on the enemy. If the rats didn't want blamed, they should have put up a bigger fight. Plain and simple.

Re:Mission Accomplished (1)

hoboroadie (1726896) | about 6 months ago | (#46615303)

Yeah, just like Iraq. We sure showed 'em.

Re:The victor writes the history books. (1)

russotto (537200) | about 6 months ago | (#46615939)

Man won the Great Rodent War centuries ago.

His Magnificence, the Generallissimo Norvegicus, says you can go right on believing that if you like.

Dental Hygiene (0, Flamebait)

Teun (17872) | about 6 months ago | (#46614871)

The only 'evidence' I read in this shoddy article is that Brits have a centuries old history of not cleaning their teeth...

Yeah! Rats! Better than you think! (1)

shadowrat (1069614) | about 6 months ago | (#46614945)

Maybe now the prejudice will end and rats can finally get some respect!

those... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615021)

...bastards!

"Humans did" (2)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about 6 months ago | (#46615047)

Specifically: Brits did. Worse than rats.

The most significant result of this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615159)

... is that Ndemic Creations will have to issue an update to the Black Death scenario in Plague Inc., with appropriate changes to the transmission vectors.

Dumb question (2)

hessian (467078) | about 6 months ago | (#46615391)

If they vomited, and the vomitus contained the bacteria, would that account for these findings?

Re:Dumb question (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 6 months ago | (#46616723)

If they vomited, and the vomitus contained the bacteria, would that account for these findings?

Only if one came into direct contact with the vomit.

Little More Than A Gratuitous Advertisement (1)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | about 6 months ago | (#46615457)

Can't help but laugh at the heated comments in this thread over a non-Article that is little more than an Advert for a History Channel-esque show for Channel 4 in the UK next Sunday.

Re:Little More Than A Gratuitous Advertisement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46615745)

Can't help but laugh at the heated comments in this thread over a non-Article that is little more than an Advert for a History Channel-esque show for Channel 4 in the UK next Sunday.

what can we say?

firstly it's a slow news Sunday, secondly it's /. here...

Btw, to throw something else into the black death mix, the whole 'it woz the ratz und fleaz wot dun it' thing was, I thought, dead and buried decades ago.
Last time I looked (30 years back, or so) there was enough evidence in the records about the infection 'jumping' over populated areas to infect remoter ones to posit a third vector other than the known rats/fleas and humans, step forward our avian friends..which one in particular?, well the two main clues are that they carry a fuckton of diseases and live in close proximity to humans..and have done so for centuries/millennia.
(Disclaimer: I am not an epidemiologist, I was asked to write code to model some aspects of the spread of the plague..so spent a lot of time trawling through supplied documentation)
Ach, it's been a while since I had a good laugh at a C4 'popscience' documentary, maybe I'll watch it.

Cute Pic! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46616323)

Look at that cute little guy!

Ehh? (1)

Stuart Halliday (3598383) | about 6 months ago | (#46616373)

New Scientist magazine had an article in it about this very subject years ago!

Blame it on the Jews! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46616397)

Poland survived the Black Death.

Neither (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 6 months ago | (#46616597)

Aliens. Its always aliens.

Cause and effect (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 6 months ago | (#46616709)

From the article (which is really a veiled advertisement for an upcoming tv show), researchers found the bacteria on the teeth of the skeletons and use this as proof that the plague spread by humans and not rats (the article actually calls it a virus, but that the black plague was bacterial, not viral).

It is reasonable that if people died from a bacterial infection y.pesis, that said bacteria would remain on their dead bodies and be burried with them. The fact that they found DNA of the bacteria on the teeth and bones doesn't tell us anything as only the teeth and bones remain.

There is also no doubt that if the plague spread by infect fleas from rats, that those fleas would also go from other mamnalian hosts including humans.

Ultimately what probably did in so many back then were complications (most likely pneumonia) to a population already weakened by difficult living conditions made worse by the famine. People today are more succeptable to infection if they are already in a compromised state, there is no reason to suspect people back then weren't.

While interesting, the article, in making the bold claim that it spread because of humans, leaves out how it got to Europe in the first place. People couldn't just hop on a plane and get from point a to b in a matter of hours. The length of journey, if spread by humans, would have meant they carriers would have died off, prior to ever making it to Europe. That wouldn't be the case for a host animal with immunity to the bacteria, say like, rats.

Again, while interesting, it seems dangerous to rewrite all of history related to the plague, ignoring first hand reports, because some skeletons, but not all, from plague victims had y.pestis on their teeth and bones. But, it does make for good publicity for an upcoming tv show.

Teeth (1)

bugs2squash (1132591) | about 6 months ago | (#46617005)

Who would have thought it possible that the Brits might succumb to any disease related to dental hygiene.
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