The Survivors of the Black Death: Blood Types, Bonfires and Keeping Clean

By | 08:00 10 comments

The spread of the Black Death in Europe
The black death is one of the worst pandemics in human history. 

Also known as The Plague, it has recurred at frequent intervals for centuries and  even today in America there are 5-15 known cases of plague per year, and in 2013 in madagascar 20 people have died from the disease, with 60 deaths the year before. The most infamous outbreaks took place in Europe between 1347 and 1353 AD and have been estimated to have killed between 75-200 million people: roughly one third of all people in Europe at the time.

The Plague had three forms: Bubonic, Pneumonic and Sceptecimic.
The Bubonic plague is perhaps the most well known, with it's primary symptom being the painful buboes that swell up in the lymph nodes. Pneumonic plague infected the lungs and scepticemic plague infected the blood.

The majority of Europe fought a losing battle due to ignorence about the disease and more primitive' medical practice: nowadays the plague is combatted by a mix of increasingly hygienic living conditions to combat the rat plague carriers and antibiotics to combat the disease itself. However, as you can see from the image above, there were a few notable 'islands' that managed to fight off the plague: Poland and Milan.

The Tumblr post that inspired this article gives the fascinating reason for these phenomena, and I will leave it to these ladies and/or gents to explain it in their own words:


If I remember correctly, Poland’s secret is that the Jews where being blamed all over Europe (as usual) as scapegoats for the black plague. Poland was the only place that accepted Jewish refugees, so pretty much all of them moved there. 
Now, one of the major causes of getting the plague was poor hygiene. This proved very effective for the plague because everyone threw their poop into the streets because there were no sewers, and literally no one bathed because it was against their religion. Unless they were Jewish, who actually bathed relatively often. When all the Jews moved to Poland, they brought bathing with them, and so the plague had little effect there.
Milan survived by quarantining its city and burning down the house of anyone showing early symptoms, with the entire family inside it. 

By Ace-Thorn


Poland: “Hey, feeling a bit down? Have a quick wash! There, you see? All better”
Milan:Aw, feeling a bit sick are we? BURN MOTHERFUCKER, BURN!!!!!”


Also, this might have something to do with it: from what I understand, O blood type is uncommonly… common in Poland. Something to do with large families in small villages and a LOT of intermarriage. The black plague was caused by a bacterium that produced, in its waste in the human body, wastes that very closely mimic the “B” marker sugars on red blood cells that keep the body from attacking its own immune system. Anyone who has a B blood type had an immune system that was naturally desensitized to the presence of the bacterium, and therefore was more prone to developing the disease. Anyone who had an O type was doubly lucky because the O blood type means the total absence of ANY markers, A or B, meaning that their bodys’ immune system would react quickly and violently against the invaders, while someone with an A may show symptoms and recover more slowly, while someone with B would have just died. Because O is a recessive blood type, it shows in higher numbers when more people who carry the recessive genes marry other people who also carry the recessive gene. Poland, which has a nearly 700 year history of being conquered by or partnering with every other nation in the surrounding area, was primarily an agricultural country, focused around smaller, farming communities where people were legally tied to, and required to work, “their” land, and so historically never “spread” their genes across a large area. The economy was, and had been, unstable for a very long period of time leading up to the plague, the government had been ineffective and had very little reach in comparison to the armies of the other countries around for a very very long time, and so its people largely remained in small communities where multiple generations of cross-familial inbreeding could have allowed for this more recessive gene to show up more frequently. Thus, there could be a higher percentage of O blood types in any region of the country, guaranteeing less spread of the illness and moving slower when it did manage to travel. Combine this with the fact that there were very few large, urban centres where the disease would thrive, and with the above facts, and you’ve got a lovely recipe for avoiding the plague.
Interestingly enough, as a result from the plague, the entirety of Europe now has a higher percentage of people with O blood type than any other region of the world. 

Just to throw a nod in, as a medieval historian, this is all credible, and is the leading theory as to the plagues effectiveness at this point. So. Enjoy your new knowledge.

 So there you have it. If you're Jewish, or have a type O blood type, you can rest safe in the knowledge that you probably wouldn't have died of the plague!

The Black Death, however, is still perhaps not the most prevalent and deadly disease in all of human history.
In 1918 the 'Spanish Flu' killed 100 million people - 3% of the world's population. But this pales in comparison to Malaria. Researchers suggest that across all of human history, of all the humans that have ever existed, one half have died due to Malaria.

Pandemics and disease are humanity's greatest foe and how we cope with their impact will always be an important and fascinating part of our history.

 -Vsauce - 'The most dangerous place on Earth'
-This Tumblr Post, originally by 'Them-days-was-old-as-fuck'
-The Gaurdian: Bubonic plague killed 20 villagers
-The deadliest pandemics in history
-Plague Doctor Image
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  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. So...
    Poland survived the Black Death because of incest and the fact Jews told them how to bath?
    Tells you to never take historical knowledge from tumblr.

    First of all Poland was not spared form the disease(the map is incorrect), it was less affected, though. We can attribute that to the quarantinnes that were implement on Polish borders by the King Casimir the Great.

    1. Thanks for popping in, though rather than being quite so sarcastic, would you mind nudging us towards some links/ sources so that we can learn more?
      I'd be very happy to go back in and edit the post with the new info and credit you

    2. So you are correct but there is a widely accepted theory that the large influx of Jewish people who practiced netilat yadayim (religious handwashing) helped but it was mostly the quarantine. Only about 1/4 of Poland's population was infected as opposed to the majority of other countries. as for the map I believe the grey represents minor outbreaks rather than a lack of plague the black death did primarily infect type o and although type o+ blood is the second most common in Poland type a+ is the majority so there's some truth to the tumblr post it's just a little misinformed

      Either way it's very interesting

  3. Interesting points. Although I don't really buy into the blood type theory as both Jews and Poles have more blood type B than western Europe. And what about Finns who had a relatively good hygiene level thanks to saunas?

  4. I'll answer the question myself: according to Finnish Wikipedia the Black Death apparently never reached Finland. And blood type B is fairly common in Finland too by the way.

  5. Sorry being jewish would not protect you from a flea bite with the black death, having cats in your town would help. keeping your town free of rats however did help. of course being a preferred blood type was a benefit.

  6. Black Death is a serious disease which must to identified before it too late... we diagnose them at early
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