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Human ectoparasites and the spread of plague in Europe during the Second Pandemic

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2018
Authors:Dean, KR, Krauer, F, Walløe, L, Lingjærde, OChristian, Bramanti, B, Stenseth, NChr., Schmid, BV
Journal:Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Pagination:6 pp
Date Published:Apr-01-2019

Plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, can spread through human populations by multiple transmission pathways. Today, most human plague cases are bubonic, caused by spillover of infected fleas from rodent epizootics, or pneumonic, caused by inhalation of infec- tious droplets. However, little is known about the historical spread of plague in Europe during the Second Pandemic (14–19th centuries), including the Black Death, which led to high mortality and recurrent epidemics for hundreds of years. Several studies have suggested that human ectoparasite vectors, such as human fleas (Pulex irritans) or body lice (Pediculus humanus humanus), caused the rapidly spreading epidemics. Here, we describe a compartmental model for plague transmission by a human ectoparasite vector. Using Bayesian infer- ence, we found that this model fits mortality curves from nine out- breaks in Europe better than models for pneumonic or rodent transmission. Our results support that human ectoparasites were pri- mary vectors for plague during the Second Pandemic, including the Black Death (1346–1353), ultimately challenging the assumption that plague in Europe was predominantly spread by rats.

Short Title:Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
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