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Sci Rep. 2017 Oct 11;7(1):12973. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-13481-2.

Trade routes and plague transmission in pre-industrial Europe.

Author information

1
Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. ricciyue@connect.hku.hk.
2
Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. harrylee@hku.hk.
3
International Center for China Development Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. harrylee@hku.hk.
4
Department of Population Health Sciences, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech, Virginia, USA.

Abstract

Numerous historical works have mentioned that trade routes were to blame for the spread of plague in European history, yet this relationship has never been tested by quantitative evidence. Here, we resolve the hypothetical role of trade routes through statistical analysis on the geo-referenced major trade routes in the early modern period and the 6,656 geo-referenced plague outbreak records in AD1347-1760. Ordinary Least Square (OLS) estimation results show that major trade routes played a dominant role in spreading plague in pre-industrial Europe. Furthermore, the negative correlation between plague outbreaks and their distance from major trade ports indicates the absence of a permanent plague focus in the inland areas of Europe. Major trade routes decided the major plague outbreak hotspots, while navigable rivers determined the geographic pattern of sporadic plague cases. A case study in Germany indicates that plague penetrated further into Europe through the local trade route network. Based on our findings, we propose the mechanism of plague transmission in historical Europe, which is imperative in demonstrating how pandemics were spread in recent human history.

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