Plague Masks: A Brief History Of The Strangest Medical Mask We Ever Used

By | April 3, 2020

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The plague mask featured a long beak. (Pinterest)

As if the Black Plague—the terrible pandemic of bubonic plague that decimated medieval Europe—wasn't terrifying enough all by itself, the "doctor" who showed up to treat you came straight out of your ornithophobic nightmares. How on Earth did plague doctors come up with such a creepy mask, and what was the science behind it? Let's take a closer look at plague masks and the pseudo-doctors who wore them. 

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Bubonic plague caused oozing boils on the skin. (

A Brief History Of The Black Death

Beginning in the middle of the 1300s, a deadly plague swept through Europe and Asia. According to records from the time, a dozen ships from the Black Sea landed in Sicily, but when residents gathered at the docks to welcome the sailors, they found most of them dead. The few who were still alive were covered in black boils oozing with blood and pus. Officials in Sicily immediately ordered the ships out of the harbor, but they weren't quick enough. The bubonic plague, which originated in Asia, had landed on European soil. When the plague was over, about one-third of Europe’s population—roughly 20 million people—was dead.