Most of us are aware of the bubonic plague known as the Black Death, which ravished Europe in the Middle Ages. However, many do not know that the bubonic plague is still alive and thriving in many parts of the world. In fact, there was an episode in New York City in 2002, where two people were hospitalized and diagnosed with the bubonic plague.
What is bubonic plague?
Bubonic plague is caused by the Yersinia Pestis bacteria and is spread through the contact with rats and small rodents like the squirrel; which happen to be carrying the infection. Though rare, it can be spread to humans through contact with other animals such as the prairie dog.
How is bubonic plague spread?
Bubonic plague is a contagious disease spread by direct contact with the infected animals or their tissues. Anyone who must handle these animals – wild life personnel, hunters, exterminators and so on risk contracting the infection when the bacteria are absorbed in their skin.
Inhaling infected droplets discharged through coughing or sneezing, or other body fluids is one way that bubonic plague is spread. Another way that the disease is spread is through flea bites from infected animals. Even domestic cats and dogs can contract the fleas from wild animals and put humans at risk for the infection.
Humans should be careful not to go into areas where rodents have recently died. The plagued fleas become hungry and actively search for a new host to feed on. They will then jump onto humans who can spread the disease among each other. Contact with dead flea infested rodents is responsible for about 85 percent of this spreadable disease.
What are the symptoms of bubonic plague?
Once infected the Yersinia Pestis bacteria will evade and multiple with the human lymphatic system, which include the tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus. The lymphatic systems play a key role in the maintenance of the body’s immune system. Symptoms of the disease will surface between two to six days after contracting bubonic plague.
Early symptoms of bubonic plague include very tender and enlarged lymph nodes under the armpits, groin, or neck. These lymph nodes are called buboes and are found in found in seventy percent of patients.
Other symptoms include:
Diarrhea which can be bloody
Petechiae (tiny red spots on the skin caused by breaks in tiny blood vessels)
Loss of appetite
These symptoms can rapidly progress to septicemia, also known as septicemia plague when the bacteria have entered the bloodstream. These symptoms in addition to the others mentioned can include: severe headaches, chills, rapid heartbeat, delirium and death.
The lungs can also become infected due to the bacteria, thus producing pneumonic plague. This condition produces difficulty in breathing and coughing up blood, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and death.
When the bubonic plague reaches the lungs, death can occur within two to six days. Ten percent of plague victims can also contract meningitis. Their symptoms include: fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, and coma.
How prevalent around the world is bubonic Plague?
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that approximately 1,000 to 3,000 new cases of bubonic plague are reported annually around the world. The countries where the disease is most prevalent are:
South East Asia
Southern and Eastern Africa
The Andes Mountains
According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately between 10 and 15 cases reported in the United States each year. These cases are concentrated in southern Oregon, western Nevada, California, southern Colorado, northern Arizona, and northern New Mexico.
How is bubonic plague diagnosed?
The diagnosis starts with a physical exam. The doctor will be looking at the skin for discoloration (black skin), and will listen to the lungs. The doctor will want to know the patient’s medical history and the places he or she has recently traveled to. The doctor will also want to know what medications are currently taken and if the patient has been exposed to infected rodents, rabbits, or fleas. The physician will want to know any symptoms the patient is currently experiencing and will order certain tests.
It is very important for people who have come in contact with people who have bubonic plague get tested.
Testing – Bubonic plague can be determined by blood and fluid samples.
Treatment for the bubonic plague – The current treatment for bubonic plague is antibiotics such as streptomycin and tetracycline, and Gentamycin. There is also a vaccine available. Supportive care is a key feature in treating this disease.
What is the mortality/morbidity rate of bubonic plague?
There is a 1-15 percent chance for death in treated cases and it jumps to 40-60 percent in untreated cases. On the other hand various sources quote that 75 percent of patients die from the bubonic plague regardless of treatments.
Can bubonic plague be prevented?
The best prevention is to stay away from animals with fleas. Once fleas are suspected in household pets, treat flea infestations immediately. Finally controlling the rat and rodents populations in rural areas are essential to prevent the bacteria from spreading.