Biology and Germ Warfare

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Spencer, Chrissy
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Biological or “germ” warfare among humans is an ancient battle tradition. Medieval European writings reveal evidence of biological warfare, such as poisoning well water with human remains (1155, Italy), catapulting plague victims into a besieged city (1346, Siege of Caffa), or mixing the blood of lepers with wine for sale to the enemy (1495, Italy) (reviewed in Reidel, 2004). In a contemporary account of the Siege of Caffa, Italian notary Gabriele de’ Mussi asserted that plague victims were catapulted inside the city walls as a deliberate form of biological warfare. He also assumes that Italians fleeing Caffa by ship carried the plague to port cities in the Mediterranean, thereby initiating a deadly pandemic called the Black Death, which was either bubonic plague or viral haemorrhagic fever (Duncan and Scott, 2005), in Europe. de’ Mussi’s second assertion has received criticism from modern scholars (Wheelis, 2002; Duncan and Scott, 2005), who contend that there were many other more probable causes of the Black Death pandemic. Whether or not the Black Death had its roots in biological warfare, the consequences of the pandemic were far-reaching, and decimated the European population while also causing human evolution that has ramifications for infections in the HIV pandemic of this era.
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28:46 minutes
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