Quarantine: A lesson for the corona virus pandemic from the Middle Ages!

Stay Home, Quarantine, Let us Beat this Pandemic

Well isn’t this something, to have just stumbled on today! Am sure you are at home reading this of on ‘quarantine’ as we all are, while observing the regulations put forward from social distancing and hygiene to stop the spread of the corona virus which has so far infected almost 434,699 with 19,606 deaths globally as of writing this article.

Many are looking to historic pandemics to find answers about the COVID-19 corona virus outbreak that has much of the world ground to a halt under quarantine and social distancing mandates. But “public health” wasn’t even a concept before one European crisis forced authorities to act: The bubonic plague or Black Death.

For most of today’s generation the Bubonic Plague which was also referred to as the Black death might be ‘too old information’ but in the middle ages, it had caused anxiety, panic and pandemonium as the Covid 19 is busy doing right now.

The Black Death was a devastating global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. The plague arrived in Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. People gathered on the docks were met with a horrifying surprise:Most sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those still alive were gravely ill and covered in black boils that oozed blood and pus.

Sicilian authorities hastily ordered the fleet of “death ships” out of the harbor, but it was too late: Over the next five years, the Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe — almost one-third of the continent’s population.

Just as the ‘novel’ corona virus then, the bubonic plague was something no one had ever, identified,heard about, seen or knew anything about it.

According to wikipedia a…

Novel virus refers to a virus not seen before. It can be a virus that is isolated from its natural reservoir or isolated as the result of spread to an animal or human host where the virus had not been identified before. It can be an emergent virus, one that represents a new strain, but it can also be an extant virus not previously identified. The virus also may come up just as the results of genetic make up mutations under various causative and thus being unnoticed by human it may be lethal.

So this confusion brought about by a pathogen so alien is bound to push some limits of humanity causing mass hysteria and panic, but hey, it’s not the first time we have been tested as a people and each of these times we emerged victorious despite losing good people.

Even before the “death ships” pulled into port at Messina, many Europeans had heard rumors about a “Great Pestilence” that was carving a deadly path across the trade routes of the Near and Far East. Indeed, in the early 1340s, the disease had struck China, India, Persia, Syria and Egypt.

This from my research resonated widely with me as some nations, with the knowledge of what was happing outside their borders, still carelessly put their citizens in danger yet we have these lessons from centuries ago and have been documented, sometimes its hard to comprehend the ignorance of those tasked with our general well being.

What does the bubonic plague pandemic of Europe and Western Asia in the 14th century tell us about pandemics more broadly, and the corona virus contagion in particular?

Bubonic plague is widely considered the cause of the deadliest pandemic in recorded history. The world has seen at least three pandemic outbreaks of bubonic plague, according to MedicineNet author Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD. But the worst and best-known is what we now call the ‘Black Death’ of the mid-14th century.

The so-called Black Death, or pandemic of the Middle Ages, began in China and made its way to Europe, causing the death of 60% of the entire population,” by some estimates, Dr. Stöppler writes.

You are seeing what am seeing? anyway we are here to find out what was learnt to curb or stop these pandemics.

Then, (in the middle ages) there was very little to go about dealing with a pandemic, their was no WHO to declare one or give statistics, people just reacted with best of their knowledge and what they believed in, and as far as COVID 19 goes, we are seeing most of these mirrored right back from history.

Europeans were scarcely equipped for the horrible reality of the Black Death, “In men and women alike,” the Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio wrote, “at the beginning of the malady, certain swellings, either on the groin or under the armpits…waxed to the bigness of a common apple, others to the size of an egg, some more and some less, and these the vulgar named plague-boils.”

Blood and pus seeped out of these strange swellings, which were followed by a host of other unpleasant symptoms — fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, terrible aches and pains — and then, in short order, death.

The Black Death was terrifyingly, indiscriminately contagious: “the mere touching of the clothes,” wrote Boccaccio, “appeared to itself to communicate the malady to the toucher.” The disease was also terrifyingly efficient. People who were perfectly healthy when they went to bed at night could be dead by morning.

It was such a confusing time in history and faced by this no one knew exactly how the Black Death was transmitted from one patient to another, and no one knew how to prevent or treat it. According to one doctor, for example(this should crack you up), “instantaneous death occurs when the aerial spirit escaping from the eyes of the sick man strikes the healthy person standing near and looking at the sick.”

Today, this grim sequence of events is terrifying but comprehensible. In the middle of the 14th century, however, there seemed to be no rational explanation for it.

It was ridiculous,this only led to very absurd reactions from people to others who were sick or showing symptoms, (right now coughing amidst the corona virus outbreak is absolutely outrageous).

Meanwhile in the 1300s, in a panic, healthy people did all they could to avoid the sick. Doctors refused to see patients; priests refused to administer last rites; and shopkeepers closed their stores. Many people fled the cities for the countryside, but even there they could not escape the disease: It affected cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens as well as people. And many people, desperate to save themselves, even abandoned their sick and dying loved ones.

Because they did not understand the biology of the disease, many people believed that the Black Death was a kind of divine punishment — retribution for sins against God such as greed, blasphemy, heresy, fornication and worldliness.

Unlike corona virus, most scholars agree on the cause of bubonic plague. Bubonic plague is caused by a bacterium, Yersinia pestis. (The French biologist Alexandre Yersin discovered this germ at the end of the 19th century.)

Unlike corona virus, once again, bubonic plague rarely spreads directly from person to person. According to the plague theory, fleas carry the plague-causing bacteria from rodents to humans, Dr. Stöppler says.

By contrast, COVID-19 seems to spread easily from person to person.

Although (the COVID-19 virus) is contagious, the contagious period of time remains to be determined,” writes MedicineNet author Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD. “Recent findings suggest it may be contagious even in the incubation period when the patient shows no symptoms.”

The plague spread widely and indiscriminately, killing young, healthy people alongside others, often in less than a week, Noymer said. That’s not like what we’ve seen from the novel coronavirus outbreak. According to the CDC, older people are more susceptible to serious symptoms, as are people with heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes.

For public health response the corona virus pandemic owes one of its major features to the Black Death outbreak: quarantine, stopping the rate of infection spread by containing the infected and those suspected to have interacted with them and at the same time limiting movement of people until the virus is contained or a practical solution is arrived at.

It was common for ports to turn away ships from plague-ridden places for extensive quarantines of as long as 40 days. Likewise, millions of people across the globe are currently bunkering down in self-isolation in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.

I hope this article will inspire you as a reader to be keen on following the steps put out their to eradicate covid 19 by reducing to a stop the spread of the corona virus, please share far and wide and if you can translate to a local language, you will have done much. Let us put our faith in God the trust in the knowledge of science He bestowed us to overcome this pandemic.

Stay safe, Be Healthy.



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Kivuti Kamau

I am Concept Developer with an inclination to Data Modelling. I developn web application + websites. I design jewelry and write poetry and short stories.