This article compares the impact of plague across Europe during the seventeenth century. It shows that the disease affected southern Europe much more severely than the north. Italy was by far the area worst struck. Using a new database, the article introduces an epidemiological variable that has not been considered in the literature: territorial pervasiveness of the contagion. This variable is much more relevant than local mortality rates in accounting for the different regional impact of plague. Epidemics, and not economic hardship, generated a severe demographic crisis in Italy during the seventeenth century. Plague caused a shock to the economy of the Italian peninsula that might have been key in starting its relative decline compared with the emerging northern European countries.
That is from the paper "Plague in seventeenth-century Europe and the decline of Italy: an epidemiological hypothesis" by Guido Alfani (European Review of Economic Hisotry, June 2013). A draft is here.
Some data from the paper
In Lombardy for example the production of woollen cloths had declined from an yearly average of 15,000 to about 3,000 in 1640 in Milan and from 8-10,000 to about 400 in 1650 in Como; in Cremona the 187 members of the Arte della Lana to be counted in 1615 had shrunk to 23 by 1648; in Monza the 20 wool enterprises present in the city in 1620 had entirely disappeared by 1640. P. 33.