The Guinness Book of Amazing Nature: Part 3 Animal Kingdom - Disease & Extinction; the Black Death Plague, Spread by Rat Fleas, Raged for Four Years and Killed 66 Million People

Sunday Mirror (London, England), November 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Guinness Book of Amazing Nature: Part 3 Animal Kingdom - Disease & Extinction; the Black Death Plague, Spread by Rat Fleas, Raged for Four Years and Killed 66 Million People


THE lives of all animals are potentially under threat from tiny killers. Bacteria and viruses, some of the smallest lifeforms known to man, kill millions each year. Animals often become the unwitting hosts to these killer germs, allowing them to spread through populations at an alarming rate. Mass epidemics and plagues can result.

The Black Death The Black Death originated in Asia in the 11th Century, reaching Europe in 1347, where it raged for four years and killed up to 66million people. A mixture of bubonic and pneumonic plague, it was transmitted by rat fleas.

Cholera A disease of the small intestine, cholera is caused by bacteria which spreads to humans in water and food. Its symptoms include diarrhoea and vomiting. Poor hygiene is often the cause of an epidemic. In India, cholera has killed 20million people this century.

Ebola The Ebola virus was first discovered near the Ebola River in Zaire in 1976. Its symptoms include a temperature, rashes, internal bleeding, loss of appetite, aches, vomiting and diarrhoea. Death can occur in a week, during which blood can ooze from every orice. There is no known treatment.

Spanish Flu In 1918 an influenza pandemic swept the world, killing up to 40million people. Despite its name, this strain of flu originated in China, and hits people between the ages of 20 and 40.

Foot-and-mouth disease This disease has been responsible for tremendous losses to livestock - mostly in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. It causes fever and produces blisters on the tongue, lips and hooves. Often the only way to stop it reaching epidemic proportions is mass slaughter.

Rabies Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Any fur-bearing mammal can carry the virus, which is passed through saliva. In humans, rabies can lead to hallucination, coma, paralysis and death.

LACK of food, cosmic events, global warming or cooling and changes in habitat and hunting by humans can cause extinction. Although the process of extinction happens all the time, there have also been a number of mass extinctions in which a large number of species all died out simultaneously.

Mass extinctions The most famous mass extinction in Earth's history came at the end of the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago. For 150 million years, dinosaurs had dominated the Earth, but within one million years they disappeared completely, along with much of the marine life of the time. A number of theories have been put forward to explain their demise. One suggests that an asteroid struck the Earth causing a period of perpetual darkness, dust storms and freezing temperatures which wiped out the habitat on which the dinosaurs depended. …

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