Black Death May Have Improved European Health

Researchers examined 600 skeletons in London and determined post-plague populations lived longer, healthier lives.

Black Death May Have Improved European Health
Wikimedia Commons / Dbenzhuser

The Black Death (shudder). It's the most feared plague ever to sweep humanity, but it might have actually done us a favor. 

A new study suggests after the plague ravaged Europe in the mid-1400s, the generations of people who managed to survive lived longer and with a higher standard of living than before. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Walters Art Museum, Dbenzhuser)

The researchers looked at 600 skeletons from both before and after the Black Death in London and determined the age of death. (Via PLOS One)

That's how they found a silver lining of sorts. People were living much longer with lower mortality risks in populations that were hit by the plague.

One of the researchers told LiveScience the plague essentially acted as a broad stroke of natural selection, weeding out the old, weak and frail and leaving the healthy behind to keep passing on those high-quality genes to their descendants.

Starting in 1437, the plague moved from Turkey and Greece to Italy and onto the rest of Europe, eventually reaching England and leaving half of London dead. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Roger Zenner)

Estimates for the death rate are scattered — but unfathomably high. Death tolls range from 25 million, 75 million, 100 million and up to 200 million. But even if it was a low-balled 25 million deaths, that's three times the population of New York City today. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Terabass)

When the plague released its grip on Europe, between 30 and 50 percent of the population was gone. It's hard to imagine, but, as the study found, it opened the door to a better life for those who survived. (Via History Channel)

As Time explains, the workforce had shrunk, allowing healthy people to demand more money and benefits for their labor. By the end of the century, wages were triple what they had been, and food like bread and meat was plentiful. 

It was long believed the Black Death was a disease carried by rats and spread by their fleas, but as we reported in March, a recently discovered mass grave shows it could have been airborne, spread by coughing and sneezing.

And it hasn't left us alone yet. According to The Atlantic, there have been reported cases and outbreaks of the bubonic plague strain in African and Asian countries in the last decade. About 1,000 or 2,000 cases are reported each year. 

Thankfully, though, now the plague can be treated with antibiotics. There have been only five reported cases in the United States since 2001.