During the 13th century, the bubonic plague latched onto Venetian imports travelling along the Silk Road. By 1334 C.E. it had already destroyed over two-thirds of China’s population, and unsuspecting merchants had shipped the invisible, contagious horror back to their beloved lagoon. The plague was hidden down deep in the coats of rats, who were carrying lethal fleas, whose stomachs were infected with the undetectable bacillus, Yersinia pestis. After contact, the victims developed swollen eyes and painful boils, which burst and formed a thick, black crust over their skin. They suffered from high fevers, severe chills, and insufferable vomiting episodes. The horrifying plague spread quickly in the lagoon, halving the Venetian population of 150,000 before subsiding. The city’s resources were becoming exhausted and drained. Motivated by her first deadly encounter with the plague, Venice established a public health system far in advance to that in the rest of Europe. But she would quickly be challenged again.
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