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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More