The bubonic plague is not as rare as you think, with about 7 cases in the US every year and traces found on the New York subway
- The plague, while rare, still infects a few thousand people annually.
- The US reports an average of seven case of plague a year, and the World
HealthOrganization gets 1,000 to 2,000 reports of the infection annually.
- Without treatment, the
bubonic plaguecan kill up to 60% of people who get the disease.
In early July, amidst a global pandemic, health authorities in China were forced to send out an alert warning the public of a potential outbreak of bubonic plague. After a herdsman in a remote region contracted the disease, the hunting of rodents that might carry the disease was quickly banned.
"There is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city," a member of the health commission announced. The World Health Organization told the press they would be monitoring the situation, and tourist spots in the area were closed.
The herdsman was rushed to the hospital for treatment, and reports say he is currently in stable condition.
This case served as a reminder to the public that while the disease is largely controlled, cases still occur fairly regularly in a handful of countries.
The US, China, and Madagascar all saw cases recently
This isn't even the first time this year that the disease that caused the Black Death, killing 60% of medieval Europe's population, was found in China. In November 2019, two people from Inner Mongolia were diagnosed with cases of the plague.
And the disease can be found in other countries as well. In 2014, the island country of Madagascar experienced an outbreak of the plague, killing 71, followed by another 2017 outbreak, killing 221 people.
Between 1,000 and 2,000 cases of the plague are reported every year to the World Health Organization, most of which are in Africa, India and Peru, although it is likely a number of cases go unreported.
According to the CDC, the US sees an average of seven cases of plague every year, occurring most commonly in southwestern states like New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.
In 2015, researchers swabbed 40 subway stations and reported finding evidence of the plague in places on the subway, in places like a railing at the Winthrop Street station in Brooklyn.
In 2002, two visitors, Lucinda Marker and John Tull, brought the plague to New York City from their ranch in New Mexico. Tull had to have both legs amputated just below the knee.
Two years later, the couple returned to New York to thank the surgeon who had saved them. ''Hello, Dr. Silane,'' Mr. Tull said. ''How are you, sir? I'm walking around.''
A plague vaccine is not yet commercially available, and the disease occurs most often in areas with wild rodent populations that carry the bacteria.
But unlike the devastated population of 14th century Europe, modern doctors have an understanding of the way the disease works, as well as a tool to fight it. With antibiotics, the mortality has been lowered to 11%, making the prospect of an outbreak of bubonic plague highly unlikely.
The plague spreads via infected animals
The plague, which was the cause of three major pandemics, is caused by a bacteria named Yersinia pestis, or Y. pestis, that spreads via infected animals like rabbits and squirrels. If those animals scratch or bite humans, those humans can get the plague, which will infect their lymphatic systems. Symptoms include open sores, organ failure, and bleeding.
If patients don't get immediate treatment, the bacteria can spread in the blood and cause sepsis. Without treatment, the bubonic plague can kill up to 60% of people who get the disease, according to the WHO.
The WHO advises people to steer clear of live or dead rodents to avoid contracting the disease.
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