Title

Did Medieval Trade Activity and a Viral Etiology Control the Spatial Extent and Seasonal Distribution of Black Death Mortality?

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2009

Publication Title

Medical Hypotheses

DOI

10.1016/j.mehy.2008.12.045

Abstract

Recent research into the world's greatest recorded epidemic, the Medieval Black Death (MBD), has cast doubt on Bubonic Plague as the etiologic agent. Prior research has recently culminated in outstanding advances in our understanding of the spatio-temporal pattern of MBD mortality, and a characterization of the incubation, latent, infectious, and symptomatic periods of the MBD. However, until now, several mysteries remained unexplained, including perhaps the biggest quandary of all: why did the MBD exhibit inverse seasonal peaks in mortality from diseases recorded in modern times, such as seasonal Influenza or the Indian Plague Epidemics of the early 1900 s? Although some have argued that climate changes likely explain the observed differences between modern clinical Bubonic Plague seasonality and MBD mortality accounts, we believe that another factor explains these dissimilarities. Here, we provide a synthetic hypothesis which builds upon previous theories developed in the last ten years or so. Our all-encompassing theory explains the causation, dissemination, and lethality of the MBD. We theorize that the MBD was a human-to-human transmitted virus, originating in East-Central Asia and not Africa (as some recent work has proposed), and that its areal extent during the first great epidemic wave of 1347-1350 was controlled hierarchically by proximity to trade routes. We also propose that the seasonality of medieval trade controlled the warm-weather mortality peaks witnessed during 1347-1350; during the time of greatest market activity, traders, fairgoers, and religious pilgrims served as unintentional vectors of a lethal virus with an incubation period of approximately 32 days, including a largely asymptomatic yet infectious period of roughly three weeks. We include a description of the rigorous research agenda that we have proposed in order to subject our theory to scientific scrutiny and a description of our plans to generate the first publicly available georeferenced GIS dataset pertaining to MBD mortality, as far as we are aware. This proposed theory, if supported by our aggressive and statistically robust proposed research activities, finally contains all of the elements necessary to convincingly reanalyze both the greatest historical epidemic of the last millennium, and the risk to modern populations in light of such findings.