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Rat-catchers in Liverpool

Improved hygiene stopped the Third Plague Pandemic

The Third Plague Pandemic in Europe stopped with the introduction of insecticide and improved personal and environmental hygiene, explains Barbara Bramanti.

How can frontier science help fight the current COVID-19 outbreak? To find out, reporters in the European Research Council’s Magazine talked to a range of ERC grantees in the fields of molecular biology, virology, immunology, epidemiology, and network science. As it turns out, much of their work can be applied to the current situation and could help understand, predict and contain the outbreak.

Picture: Liverpool Port Sanitary Authority rat-catchers dipping rats in buckets of petrol to kill fleas for plague control. Liverpool, England. Photo: The Wellcome Collection, 1900/1920.

Cooperation and solidarity

The researcher Barbara Bramanti of the University of Ferrara, Italy and the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES) at the University of Oslo explored mechanisms of plague transmission to explain how plague spread in medieval times. The research was performed in Bramanti's Medieval Plague research group (MedPlag) in Oslo, financed with an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council

“We observed how the Third Plague Pandemic in 1894 stopped in Europe at the middle of last century, in concomitance with the introduction of insecticide, but also of private baths, washing machines, the vacuum cleaner and other means to enforce personal and environmental hygiene”, Bramanti explains.

“In other parts of the world, where reservoirs (e.g. infected wild rodents and their fleas) are present, sporadic episodes of infection or epidemics are still recorded every year”, Bramanti adds.

Barbara Bramanti also emphasizes that cooperation and solidarity between countries is important in order never to lower our guard against the spread of infections.

Read the full interview with Barbara Bramanti on the ERC Magazine website.