The Dragon Plague, also known as the "Coughing Fever" in China, was an ailment of unknown origin that spread rapidly among British Dragons throughout 1806 and 1807. The disease appeared to have be brought to Britain in November 1805 by a Dakota captured raiding British settlements in the Americas. Although the Dakota dragon showed no symptoms himself, every other dragon he was in contact with became infected. The first symptoms of the plague were coughing and congestion, accompanied by loss of appetite and a lingering weakness or lethargy in an infected dragon. The tongue of an infected dragon became covered in a series of white blisters that hindered the individual's ability to taste. These symptoms become progressively worse and led to eventual death in all cases until a cure was found. Young and old dragons were found to be able to survive longest after infection, the disease was most swiftly fatal to middle-aged dragons.
The acid of the Longwings made the plague particularly horrible for them, since every time they coughed, they sprayed as well. Infected Longwings had to be kept in sand pits or at least be given a tub of sand to cough into. Repeated violent coughing would eventually cause the acid to build up on the dragon's spurs, searing away her or his own skin until the jaw bone was laid bare. Conterrenis's captain Gardenley shot him when the plague had progressed this far in his case.
The huge Regal Coppers, on the other hand, suffered more from the loss of appetite, since they were unable to eat enough to maintain their muscle mass and eventually became unable to breathe.
The British and Chinese discovered a cure for the Dragon Plague entirely by accident, thanks to the Chinese chefs who accompanied Prince Yongxing on his embassy to Britain. During the return voyage to China with Temeraire and Laurence aboard the HMS Allegiance, Temeraire became infected by the Dragon Plague after a visit by Volatilus and Captain James. Volly was suffering what was at the time thought to be merely a cold, and Temeraire began to show similar symptoms shortly after Volly and James' departure.
In an attempt to reinvigorate Temeraire's appetite, during a stop at Cape Town Laurence asked the chefs to prepare pungent dishes that would penetrate Temeraire's dulled senses. One of these dishes contained a particularly foul smelling mushroom which, although it made all the humans retch, Temeraire enjoyed with pleasure. The mushroom sent him into a deep and happy sleep, and when he awoke, he appeared to have been cured of his "cold".
When Laurence and Temeraire returned to Britain in December 1806, they discovered that the almost every dragon in the Aerial Corps had been stricken by the Plague. At this point it was not known that Temeraire's "cold" had actually been the Plague, so when Temeraire was accidentally exposed, along with Sauvignon, everyone expected that he would start coughing within five days. Only when this failed to happen did Keynes determine that Temeraire was not sick and, as Keynes put it, did not mean to be.
It was assumed that Temeraire's immunity had been acquired during his earlier exposure and cure in Cape Town. However, his diet at that point had been so varied, thanks to the efforts of the Chinese chefs, that it was not clear exactly which item or items had brought about the cure. Temeraire and the rest of Lily's formation, along with their captains, were sent to Cape Town to see if the cure could be repeated for the other dragons. After repeated experimentation, some of which was extremely hard on Temeraire's digestive system, the British realized that the cure depended on the mushrooms and set about trying to obtain as many as possible.
The people of the Tswana Kingdom had already known for some time of the medicinal properties of the mushroom. They grew it in caverns, fertilized with elephant and dragon dung. When the British began to harvest mushrooms from these caverns, the Tswana not unnaturally considered this to be theft. It was this misunderstanding which led to the capture of a British party by Kefentse.
Despite this, the British were able to harvest a sufficient supply of mushrooms before Tswana forces under Mokhachane I (d) evicted all Europeans from sub-Saharan Africa.
In September 1807, with the mushroom that cured the plague established in growing caves in Scotland, the British Admiralty released the infected Sauvignon to return to the couriers' covert in Paris. By doing this the Admiralty meant to infect as many continental dragons as possible with the plague and to establish the British Aerial Corps' superiority in Europe.
This plan was undertaken by people who believed dragons were no more than beasts. The intended consequence, the death of large numbers of intelligent dragons not only in Europe but possibly around the world, did not disturb them. Rather, it was seen as a boon for the British Military position and a laudable goal. Even Admiral Nelson, who had met Temeraire and conversed with him, supported the plan.
Not surprisingly, the Admiralty's point of view was widely condemned by members of the British Aerial Corps, but their protests were not given consideration by the Lords of the Admiralty. Indeed, the entire Aerial Corps' command structure was bypassed in the implementation of the scheme, since Admiral Jane Roland was not told until days past Sauvignon's release.
The plague reached the French and continued across the globe. A great many dragons would have perished had not Temeraire and William Laurence taken it upon themselves to give the cure to the French. The Admiralty convicted Laurence of treason for this act and Napoleon Bonaparte showed himself to be grateful in certain ways, which did not make Laurence feel less guilty. Temeraire and Laurence insisted they did not intend to "aid" the French Emperor so much as save the lives of innocent dragons. Indeed, it was later stated that the plague had gone as far as China and that Emperor, along with Temeraire's mother Lung Tien Qian, praised the actions of the pair.
Victims of the Dragon Plague
Please note, this list is incomplete, and consists of the names of dragons known to have died of the plague;