mokie: A big red dinosaur says, "Make me a sandwich" (grumpy)
The Black Death wasn't spread by rat fleas, says a researcher...

...promoting a TV special.

...based on 25 bodies in one British plague pit and a modern account of pneumonic plague.

...ignoring contemporary reports of the Black Death's spread and symptoms, which acknowledge that respiratory infections (pneumonic plague) occurred, but that they were less common than the regular infection presumed to be spread by fleas, whose symptoms (buboes, or swollen lymph nodes) gave the Plague its other common name.

...based in part on genetic analysis of the Yersinia pestis bacteria from those bodies, which he found to be almost identical to modern bacteria in modern outbreaks and which he thus concludes couldn't have spread as fast in its bubonic form as the Black Death's scale would have required, which ignores that (a) modern folks are by and large less cozy with fleas than medieval Europe was, (b) medieval Europe had seen a series of massive famines in the years leading up to the Black Death, and malnutrition leaves populations vulnerable to disease and infection, and (c) European researchers have found previously unknown (and hopefully extinct) strains of the plague bacteria which could easily have been nastier than the modern version.

...apparently jumping into the "It wasn't rats!" debate without actually addressing any of the rat-related evidence.

I love the hemorrhagic plague theory - the idea that Europe was struck not by the rat-spread Yersinia pestis bacteria, but by an Ebola-like virus. Or better, both, sweeping through a weakened population at the same time! And according to some researchers, there are a few assumptive leaps when it comes to rats spreading the plague in Europe, because of where specific rat species lived or had been recorded during the period.

But at the same time, we know Yersinia pestis hit Europe because the DNA is there, and we've known rats and their fleas spread the plague for years, because regular outbreaks in outbreak-prone areas in Asia were preceded by massive rat die-offs. That's what led researchers to specifically study transmission via rats and fleas. We know how that mechanism works. Getting rats and fleas off the hook requires more than proving that 25 bodies in a single British plague pit died of pneumonic plague rather than bubonic, because for all we know that pit was reserved specifically for victims of the pneumonic plague, since it was so very contagious and deadly.

Of course, you could argue that the real problem is that I don't know for sure that this is what the researcher is saying: I'm responding to a flurry of articles proclaiming that the flea and rat are innocent of all charges, and for all I know, it's just a bunch of writers misinterpreting one researcher's findings, just like the regular articles proclaiming that a cure for AIDS has been found because one researcher or another has found a promising technique that still needs years and years and years of testing.
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