The Culprit at Large

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

At this point, we've discussed at some length the Justinian Plague - unless this is where you've begun your expedition into the site, in which case a quick refresher is in order: The Plague of Justinian was mostly bad.

But while that is sufficient to say (As we covered it more thoroughly in other posts), it doesn't do much to explain what about this Plague was so bad. The truth of it, in a nutshell, is nothing. Just like other bacteria of its ilk and most viruses, Yesinia Pestis, comes with a myriad of symptoms along with it. Reports of fevers, chills, headaches, abdominal pains and even gangrene were common. Often, it seemed as though these symptoms would progress into delusions and comas.

While reports differ as to the span of time from onset of symptoms to eventual death some state it was as quick as mere hours. This illustrates not only the lethality of the symptoms themselves, but of the underlying causes of death. The progression to comas leaves the sick unable to assist themselves, and similarly developing delusional tendencies would have led to harm befalling both innocents and sick alike.

For a disease like the Justinian Plague, another limiting factor was the inability of medical professionals of the time to treat their symptoms. These symptoms, when left untreated, would continue on to even more severe conditions. Hemorrhagic fever has been held as a potential contender for the end result of the Yersinia Pestis strain, and so the patients would likely have experienced a complete loss of body regulation at the end of their life.

Another lethal aspect of Yersinia Pestis was its ability to take different forms, each with their own dangerous aspects. The most common form, bubonic plague, was known by its characteristic "Buboes" which were essentially red swollen lymph nodes at the site of contraction - wherever the patient had been bitten. These buboes would begin to multiply as the disease progressed and along with the aforementioned fevers and aches, could lead into septicemic plague.

The second most common form of plague, septicemic, develops when Yersinia Pestis spreads throughout the bloodstream causing widespread infection. Sudden bleeding beneath the skin and more complex gastrointestinal issues were common place as well as hematuria and epitaxis. Severe shock symptoms and renal failure are the end result of this form.

By far the rarest form is pneumonic plague. Entering the bloodstream and infecting the lungs, Yersinia Pestis can cause pneumonia (can alternatively be caused by direct inhalation of Yersinia Pestis droplets). This form is difficult to differentiate from pneumonia from other sources, especially for the time they had encountered it, as it presents with the same symptoms as you might otherwise expect.

While all forms of Yersinia Pestis are extremely lethal when left untreated, the sad truth is, is that the overwhelming majority of cases (Anywhere from 75-90%) can be cured with proper antibiotic treatment. A boon that our ancestors of the Justinian Plague were not privy to.

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