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Background: Recent studies have noted myriad qualitative and quantitative inconsistencies between the medieval Black Death (and subsequent ‘‘plagues’’) and modern empirical Y. pestis plague data, most of which is derived from the Indian and Chinese plague outbreaks of A.D. 1900615 years. Previous works have noted apparent differences in seasonal mortality peaks during Black Death outbreaks versus peaks of bubonic and pneumonic plagues attributed to Y. pestis infection, but have not provided spatiotemporal statistical support. Our objective here was to validate individual observations of this seasonal discrepancy in peak mortality between historical epidemics and modern empirical data.

Methodology/Principal Findings: We compiled and aggregated multiple daily, weekly and monthly datasets of both Y. pestis plague epidemics and suspected Black Death epidemics to compare seasonal differences in mortality peaks at a monthly resolution. Statistical and time series analyses of the epidemic data indicate that a seasonal inversion in peak mortality does exist between known Y. pestis plague and suspected Black Death epidemics. We provide possible explanations for this seasonal inversion.

Conclusions/Significance: These results add further evidence of inconsistency between historical plagues, including the Black Death, and our current understanding of Y. pestis-variant disease. We expect that the line of inquiry into the disputed cause of the greatest recorded epidemic will continue to intensify. Given the rapid pace of environmental change in the modern world, it is crucial that we understand past lethal outbreaks as fully as possible in order to prepare for future deadly pandemics.


2009 Welford, Bossak This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Article obtained from PLoS One.