Independent Reading Task #4 Red Madness – Gail Jarrow

The Black Death, like pellagra, killed a numerous amounts people each time they struck their country. Each time, they left doctors puzzled and people scared for decades at a time. Both diseases were mysteriously caused, and there seemed to be no cure. Doctors and citizens alike searched high and low, looking time and time again to see any pattern, any clue, any hope to find a way out of each life sucking hole.


Pellagra was a disease that plagued the South of the U.S. People who caught it was covered in red rashes on their hands, feet, chest, and face. With the rash, they were graced with diarrhea. As their symptoms got worse as their torture continued, the victim would start going insane. Insanity was the final stage of pellagra, and when reached, it was incurable. Many doctors started looking for the cause of this destructive disease. Their initial thought was that spoiled corn was the cause pellagra, as when the victim was given a corn free diet, they normally recovered. Doctors argued and researched, but to no avail. Corn didn’t always seem the cause, but neither did anything else. When Joseph Goldberger -an immigrant from Europe’s Austro-Hungarian Empire- was put to the case everything changed. Goldberger considered every cause of any disease, and after much looking, he saw that pellagra was caused by eating disorders. However, each time that he presented his hypothesis, not all doctors would believe it. “He who still doubts that pellagra is ‘essentially of dietary origin’ is hopeless.” (89) Time and time again, test after test, Goldberger tried to help the doctors believe that an unbalanced diet was the cause of pellagra. After Goldberger’s death and fight against pellagra for nearly fifteen years, the cause of this mysterious disease was not found. Many people who had heard of Goldberger and his work tried everything they could to cure pellagra. Finally, in 1937, nicotinic acid, or niacin, was proved to be the most efficient and quick working cure to pellagra. After finding ways to put niacin into foods that people normally ate such as bread and flour, people of all social economic status were able to get the required B3 vitamin that they were missing. The lack of niacin was the was the cause of pellagra, and once food was enriched, pellagra, the nearly indestructible and reoccurring disease, was finally stamped out and almost gone for good. Pellagra killed 100,000 Americans and affected 3 million in total. Now, that we have found vitamins, we can stop pellagra early on and save lives.


Black Death or the Plague was a disease that caused enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits or groin of the victim, followed by diarrhea, chills, fever, vomiting, pains, and aches and then, death. This disease at the time was impossible and anything was used to cure it. “Physicians relied on crude and unsophisticated techniques such as bloodletting and boil-lancing (practices that were dangerous as well as unsanitary) and superstitious practices such as burning aromatic herbs and bathing in rosewater or vinegar.” ( The Black Death was also incredibly contagious. “People who were perfectly healthy when they went to bed at night could be dead by morning.” ( Initially, people thought the cause was God’s punishment, so people would gather in one church to pray to God for his forgiveness. But because this disease was caused because of fleas and passed when groups of people were together, the spreading of the Plague would spread like wildfire. While death ran her long, slender finger over all Europe, taking cities, people and families with it, people suffered and struggled to find the cause. But, thanks to the Great Fire of London, the people who were contaminated were all swallowed in the fire. And because of it, the Black Death was able to die out for a time. Then, in the 20th century, doctors were finally able to find that the Plague was caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. Antibiotics were the found cure for this fatal disease. And if treated fast enough, people now can survive the once undying disease. The Black Death once killed 75 million people, but now, it only affects not even half that amount. Now, that we have found required antibiotics and learned to be more hygienic, we can stop the plague early on and save more lives.












Little, Becky. “Rats Didn’t Spread the Black Death-It Was Humans.”, A&E Television Networks, 17 Jan. 2018,

“Cures for the Black Death.” History Learning Site,

Pruitt, Sarah. “Medieval ‘Black Death’ Was Airborne, Scientists Say.”, A&E Television Networks, 1 Apr. 2014, Staff. “Black Death.”, A&E Television Networks, 2010,

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