Bubonic plague was a serial visitor in European Middle Ages | Science News

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Bubonic plague was a serial visitor in European Middle Ages

Outbreaks erupted in years following balmy temperatures in distant Asia, suggesting a possible link

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3:00pm, February 23, 2015
rat

RATTED OUT  Rats have long been blamed as a long-term reservoir for Black Death, even though the plague easily killed them. New research suggests the plague repeatedly hitched a ride from Asia to Europe instead.

Black Death may have been a repeat guest in medieval Europe, not a resident. Outbreaks of the plague that killed millions of people were triggered by spurts of warm weather a continent away, researchers suggest online February 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers poring through records of plague outbreaks and climate fluctuations saw that rashes of the disease in Europe followed periods of warm weather in Central Asia. Instead of being imported to Europe once from Asia and sticking around, the researchers propose that the plague was introduced many times between the 14th and 19th centuries.

“The Black Death cannot primarily be understood by what happened in Europe. You have to understand what happened … in Central Asia,” says evolutionary biologist Nils Stenseth of the University of Oslo in Norway, a coauthor of the new report.

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