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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid