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Michigan State University

Defoe and the Plague in London 1664-1665: Manifestations

Guide accompanies a small book exhibit in the Lobby of the Main Library.


Manifestations of Plague in 1664-1665 Londoners

  • Symptoms appeared between 36 hours and 10 days, averaging six days, after exposure, a black pustule developing where the flea bite occurred.
  • Then, swellings appeared in the armpit, neck, or groin (lymph glands) or other places in the body, causing headache, vomiting, and cutting pain where the swellings, called buboes, were.
  • In mild cases, in which the patient already had some immunity, the infection subsided, the swellings went away, and the patient recovered.
  • If the swellings persisted, they became hard and turned purple through bleeding beneath the skin.  Red lumps or dark blotches appeared at random over the body and the infection entered the bloodstream poisoning in the nervous system.  Death.
  • In septicemic transmission, if the person bitten by the flea has a high concentration of the plague germ in their blood already, and then that flea bites another person, it infects the next person.  This form of transmission was rarer, but 100% fatal, with a rash developing in 1-3 days causing death before lymph swellings occurred.
  • In pneumonic transmission, the patient’s breathing and coughing infected nearby caregivers, friends, and family, with a two to three-day incubation period.  Body temperature fell and the lungs stiffened.  It was 95-100% fatal and is the only kind of plague transmitted by human agency.
Michigan State University