top of page


Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Though we tend to associate this disease with certain periods of history - for example, the ten biblical plagues, the Eurasian Black Death of the 1340s or the 1665-1666 Great Plague of London - plague is still endemic to many parts of the world in the 21st century. In this two-hour lecture, we consider the nature of plague, its social and medical history and how plague outbreaks are managed today. The tutorial has been designed to be of particular interest to students reading for degrees in biological sciences, microbiology and social history and history of medicine.


We begin by reviewing the history of plague, from the Plagues of Egypt, through the Plague of Justinian and the pandemic plagues, to more recent epidemics in countries such as India. We then focus on Y. pestis, its nature and transmission. We examine the DNA sequence of Y. pestis following its extraction from the teeth of skeletons discovered in recently excavated London plague pits. We the consider the different forms of plague - bubonic, septicaemic, pneumonic, pharyngeal and meningeal. In the final part of the lecture, we address the epidemiology of plague, its prevention and treatment with antibiotics. This lecture is a thrilling trip into the history - both social and medical - of a terrible disease. It provides students with a fascinating example of how medicine and science can conquer bacterial adversity, whilst warning of potential future problems arising from antibiotic resistance.

For further information and a programme, please email Dr Guy Sutton at the address in the footer below.

bottom of page