Like no other disease, plague evokes terror. One of the most lethal illnesses in human history, it killed probably a third of Europe's population in the 14th century. It may also have been one of the first agents of biological warfare: It's said that in the 1340s, invading Mongols catapulted their plague dead over the city wall into Kaffa in the Crimea.
Yet the plague is not just a disease of the distant past. While cases tapered off in the mid-20th century, the World Health Organization (WHO) now classifies plague as "re-emerging." No one is predicting another pandemic like the Black Death that devastated Europe. The WHO now records at most only a few thousand cases worldwide per year; and, if detected early, the disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics.
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