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Plague of Justinian linked with Black Death: Scientists warn it could come back

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The Plague of Justinian wiped out half the globe 1,500 years ago and it has now been linked through DNA to the Black Death, which killed about 50 million Europeans in the 14th century. This means this strain of Yersinia pestis is documented to have hit the globe twice and there’s a chance that it could come around again, according to the scientists who conducted this research.

NBC News reports these two plagues were linked after researchers were able to extract DNA from the teeth of two Germans killed by the Plague of Justinian. After they reconstructed the genome, they found that the two plagues were basically the same thing, just given different names.

Tom Gilbert, who is a professor at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and the man who wrote an accompanying commentary to the research, said:

"What this shows is that the plague jumped into humans on several different occasions and has gone on a rampage. That shows the jump is not that difficult to make and wasn't a wild fluke."

The experts do not believe that a plague in modern times today would have anywhere close the impact it had centuries ago because of the antibodies that medical community holds today, reports Hendrik Poinar, director of the Ancient DNA Center at McMaster University in Canada, who led the new research.

He also said that the plague is carried by about 200 rodent species and humans or other animals can potentially get infected. Poinar warned that the plague could be potentially difficult to “snuff out” if it transforms into an airborne version. If that were the case, people could die just 24 hours after first getting infected.

Poinar suggests vigilance among the scientific community when it concerns the plague. His suggestion is to "sharpen surveillance" of rodent populations that carry the plague as the first step in trying to avert future human infections.



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