News / Science & Technology

Study: Black Death Lead to Longer, Healthier Lives Among Survivors

An llustration of the Black Death is seen in this image from the Toggenburg Bible (1411).
An llustration of the Black Death is seen in this image from the Toggenburg Bible (1411).

Related Articles

Liar! Liar! African Bird Uses Elaborate Ruse to Steal Food

Scientists say tricky Dronga birds are pathological liars that mimic alarm calls to warn other animals of approaching predator just to frighten them off and steal their food

Video Heat-Hardy Corals Could Help Save Dying Reefs

About 80 percent of Caribbean corals are dead, as are nearly 75 percent Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest on the planet

Blood of Young Mice Reverses Signs of Aging in Older Ones

Key rejuvenating protein also found in humans and could one day help people lead healthier lives
While the Black Death of the 14th century killed off about 30 percent of the population of Europe, the survivors and their descendants may have benefitted, according to new research.
 
In fact, survivors “lived significantly longer and were healthier than people who lived before the epidemic struck in 1347,” according to research by University of South Carolina anthropologist Sharon DeWitte.
 
Some of the survivors of the Black Death, which was caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, lived to be 70 and even 80 years-old, according to the research.
 
The improved health may have been passed all the way down people of European descent today.
 
“I think it is safe to say that descendants might be reaping the benefits of the Black Death in terms of immune competence or disease resistance - though this is a hypothesis that requires testing,” said DeWitte in an email to VOA. “What can be done is an examination of human genetic variation before and after the Black Death and in living people in an effort to find genetic variants that confer immune benefits and that increased in frequency after the Black Death.”
 
For the past decade, DeWitte has studied the skeletal remains of more than 1,000 men women and children who lived before, during and after the deadly outbreak from 1347 to 1351.
 
The skeletons all came from London cemeteries and are “exceedingly rare,” said DeWitte in a statement, adding that there are very few cemetery samples linked to the 14th century plague. It is estimated that the Black Death wiped out nearly half of London’s population. In total, the disease killed between 75 and 100 million Europeans.
 
DeWitte determined the sex and age at death of the remains, taking notice of “porous” lesions” and dental health, both indicative of overall health.
 
What she found was that the Black Death targeted the frail of all ages and that survivors experienced better overall health and longer lives post outbreak. However, surviving the Black Death did not mean a guarantee of health over a lifespan, but “revealed a hardiness to endure disease, including repeated bouts of plague.”
 
Finally, according to the research, the plague “either directly or indirectly, very powerfully shaped mortality patterns for generations after the epidemic ended.”
 
“Knowing how strongly diseases can actually shape human biology can give us tools to work with in the future to understand disease and how it might affect us,” DeWitte said in a statement, adding that the “Black Death was a single iteration of a disease that has affected humans since at least the 6th century Plague of Justinian” from 541 to 542 AD.
 
“Genetic analysis of 14th century Y. pestis has not revealed significant functional differences in the ancient and modern strains,” DeWitte says. “This suggests that we need to consider other factors such as the characteristics of humans in order to understand changes in the disease over time.”
 
DeWitte’s findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs