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why didn't the fleas die?


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#1 Kayleigh

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 01:54 PM

Hi Guys,



Just doing a lesson the black death with my wonderful Year 7's and a very astute pupil has just asked why the fleas didn't die from the plague? Does anyone know and can help me out?



Thanks,

#2 Malarvilie

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 02:35 PM

I assume it is because they were carriers and just spread it. Like mosquitos that carry malaria.
......I have the body of a weak and feeble woman
but I have the heart and stomach of a King!

#3 JohnDClare

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 02:55 PM

They do die:

Once the plague bacteria are ingested by the flea, it reproduces within the gut and may form a plug of the flea’s digestive system. Some time is required between when a flea is infected and when it is capable of transmitting the organism; for the rock squirrel flea this averages 53 days. Since the plague organism also is lethal to the flea, due to the gut obstruction, fleas often die before they can transmit the disease. However, an effect of the bacteria blocking the gut is that the infected flea becomes starved and thus more actively bites and seeks a host. Fleas capable of transmitting the disease usually do so in the course of biting; less commonly, the plague organisms are transmitted when scratching the flea feces into bites or wounds.



#4 DavidT

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 11:18 AM

Hi Guys,



Just doing a lesson the black death with my wonderful Year 7's and a very astute pupil has just asked why the fleas didn't die from the plague? Does anyone know and can help me out?



Thanks,


Because it wasn't the rats or their fleas. (Allegedly.)

The Black Death is a superb way of opening up ideas about using sources to address historical debates. Even using relevant film clips from Schama, Nicholson's Channel 4 film, and Cohn's Timewatch film where he argues against the rat theory (I've got the full video but haven't found more than this clip on YouTube).


There's lots more material here for both sides of the issue (some are a bit out of date, such as Skip Knox's useful site which seems to be missing now). Aberth discusses what he regards as the weaknesses of Cohn's argument at about the 10' mark (it's an agricultural programme so watch out for the banjo music at the start!). Finally, this talk by John Kelly compares the Black Death with the Irish famine.

The end of the world as they knew it then. What could be better material for a historian? :-)

#5 Mark H.

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 02:32 PM

There have been claims in recent years that the Black Death was actually a human variant of anthrax ( a disease of cattle) or even a virulent ebola-type virus. The anthrax theory was explored in the BBC 'Timewatch' documentary mentioned above in which my old University supervisor John Hatcher (author of the excellent 'The Black Death: A Personal History') appeared. Recent experiments on the bones of victims buried in plague pits claim to have discovered definite DNA evidence of the bacterium Y. Pestis (ie Bubonic Plague) but apparently these findings have been disputed by other researchers.

Edited by Mark H., 13 May 2012 - 02:38 PM.

In memory of my boyhood hero Jim Clark (1936-1968): 'Chevalier Sans Peur et Sans Reproche'.

#6 JohnDClare

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 04:16 PM

There have been claims in recent years that the Black Death was actually a human variant of anthrax ( a disease of cattle) or even a virulent ebola-type virus. The anthrax theory was explored in the BBC 'Timewatch' documentary mentioned above in which my old University supervisor John Hatcher (author of the excellent 'The Black Death: A Personal History') appeared. Recent experiments on the bones of victims buried in plague pits claim to have discovered definite DNA evidence of the bacterium Y. Pestis (ie Bubonic Plague) but apparently these findings have been disputed by other researchers.

The bone DNA, to be fair, was fairly final - having argued very strongly in the past that we needed to make pupils aware of the possibility that it was anthrax, I have stopped bothering now.

#7 Mark H.

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 06:19 AM

I would tend to agree John, but for the fact that the accuracy of DNA evidence has been increasingly called into question both in criminal and historic contexts. I don't pretend to understand all the details but even safely 'closed cases' like the date of the Turin Shroud have recently been reopened by what look like reputable scientists. Of course it's often difficult for the layperson to disentangle what is reasonable doubt from the views of cranks whose opinions are sometimes given equal weight in media discussions in pursuit of an elusive 'balance' or because they can be easily made into a sensationalist TV documentary, c.f. the previous thread on the 'Moon Landing Hoax'.
My pet hate amongst Historical documentaries are those which claim to present 'startling new evidence' about the Spanish Armada, World War One, the Titanic or whatever which anyone who has read anything written about the subject in the last thirty years or even seen n number of previous documentaries about the subject knew already.

Edited by Mark H., 14 May 2012 - 06:28 AM.

In memory of my boyhood hero Jim Clark (1936-1968): 'Chevalier Sans Peur et Sans Reproche'.

#8 Kayleigh

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 08:49 AM

Hi guys,



thank you so much for the replies to this! Just been sharing the replies with my class and they are so fascinated by the fact that teachers have a website like this where they talk to each other and ask questions!



Many thanks again




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