Global warming to bring back Black Death?

Nature reports that extant strains of Yersinia pestis are very similar to the Black Death bacterium that wiped out half of Europe in the 14th century — meaning that environment ought to be at the forefront of concern for the plague’s potential return.

The article specifically cites climate as a factor that could mediate a return of the Black Death. The citation for this claim is this paper, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The PNAS paper examined the plague breakouts in China from 1850 to 1964 and correlated them with climatic conditions (i.e., wetness/dryness) and concluded:

In northern China, plague intensity generally increased when wetness increased, for both the current and the previous year, except for low intensity during extremely wet conditions in the current year (reflecting a dome-shaped response to current-year dryness/ wetness). In southern China, plague intensity generally decreased when wetness increased, except for high intensity during extremely wet conditions of the current year. These opposite effects are likely related to the different climates and rodent communities in the two parts of China: In northern China (arid climate), rodents are expected to respond positively to high precipitation, whereas in southern China (humid climate), high precipitation is likely to have a negative effect. Our results suggest that associations between human plague intensity and precipitation are nonlinear: positive in dry conditions, but negative in wet conditions.

We take this to mean that any change in precipitation levels could prompt a plague breakout. So expect the take-home message for alarmists to be: climate change, as accelerated by man, could bring back the Black Death. You heard it here first.

7 thoughts on “Global warming to bring back Black Death?”

  1. This article states that the height of the great European plague occurred during the Little Ice Age circa 1350 AD. It seems that much of the precipitation was in the form of snow. Permanent snow fields were common in places. Obviously melting snow contributed to the wetness. Rats, the carriers of the plague seemed to have adapted to the cold. The study also indicates that precipitation in warmer temperatures is limits the spread of the pathogen.

    It seems that change towards a warmer climate is beneficial while the current cooling may increase our risk of exposure to the plague. It is time to burn more coal and oil to make us safe from the Black Death.

  2. Yes. Undoubtedly we need to fear a disease that can only thrive in filthy squalid conditions in which we no longer live, is spread by the bites of insects by which we are now rarely bitten, which live on the backs of rodents among whom few of us now live, and can be killed by antibiotics, which we now have. I know that I, for one, am terrified by the very idea of a Y. Pestis outbreak. /sarcasm

    What a load of scare-mongering, hand-wringing, funding whore-mongering poppycock.

  3. Unmitigated garbage!

    The plague has always traveled the course of an easy life cycle, fleas to humans to fleas to humans to…..with rats as the bus line from place to place. During the much celebrated black death plagues of Europe, the cities were infested with fleas on human hosts, like a cat or dog is infested with fleas. If you get to that stage, nothing but total fumigation will rid you of the fleas, their eggs, and the larva that feed on the digested blood feces of the fleas sucking your blood. Just one remaining flea, larva, or egg with start the process anew. People in London would hang blood soaked cloth over their sleeping children in hopes of drawing away the fleas.

    In the period when the Black Plague infested Europe, comets were thought to bring the onset of the plague, along with other incidental nostrums.

    That anyone would spend time and money on such a useless enterprise examining climates and Black Plague occurrence is beyond any rational motivation. There are worthy problems in the world to legitimately examine, like Witch Doctors sacrificing children in Uganda, starvation, wars, and the like, more worthy than any of this junk science.

    I guess I have contracted Y. P. Outragiensis!

  4. I remember reading a study about 35 years ago and their conclusion was that during the last little ice age, the woodland rats were forced into the urban areas because of the cold. The fleas they were carrying were infested with the bacteria. The fleas jumped off, onto city rats and so the infection began. All from the little ice age that forced the country rats into the cities. Amazing.

  5. We now have country rats and city rats as part of the equation. What about the seafaring rats that brought the fleas and the plague across oceans into seaports and thus spread it around the globe. That had nothing to do whatever with the climate, unless there were icebergs in the Mediterranean.

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