For centuries rats have been blamed for spreading the bubonic plague, helping to consign millions of people to an agonising death. But are they really responsible?
Once feared as the Black Death, one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, the rodent-borne disease wiped out a third of the world’s population in the Middle Ages. Bacteria causes the bubonic plague; the disease is spread by Xenopsylla cheopis fleas, whose main host is the black rat. The rodents were thought to have then spread the plague from China to Europe, eventually reaching Britain in 1348.