The plague was once the most feared disease in the world like coronavirus. The black death wiped out roughly 50% of Europe’s population in the 17th century. Its victims first showed flu like symptoms like they had fever, flu and then it became patient extremely weak while confined to bed.
During the plague outbreak the physicians who tended to plague victims wore a costume that has since taken on sinister overtones because that time before the germ theory of disease, physicians believed that the plague spread through poisoned air that could create an imbalance in a person’s humors, or bodily fluids.
Medical historians have attributed the invention of the "beak doctor" costume to the French doctor Charles de Lorme, who adopted in 1619 the idea of a full head-to-toe protective garment, modeled after a soldier's canvas gown which went from the neck to the ankle.
The over-clothing garment, as well as leggings, gloves, boots, and a hat, were made of waxed leather. The garment was impregnated with similar fragrant items as the beak mask.
Lorme wrote that the mask had a "nose half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and to carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the drugs enclosed further along in the beak".
The Genevese physician Jean-Jacques Manget, in his 1721 work Treatise on the Plague written just after the Great Plague of Marseille, describes the costume worn by plague doctors at Nijmegen in 1636–1637. The costume forms the frontispiece of Manget's 1721 work.
The plague doctors of Nijmegen also wore beaked masks. Their robes, leggings, hats, and gloves were made of Morocco leather. This costume was also worn by plague doctors during the Plague of 1656, which killed 145,000 people in Rome and 300,000 in Naples.
The costume terrified people because it was a sign of imminent death. Plague doctors wore these protective costumes by their agreements when they attended their plague patients.