The Black Death wiped out 55 million people in the 14th century in Europe, Asia, and Africa. A plague so deadly seems like it could only be fit for medieval times, right? The truth is the Bubonic plague still exist today, and as of 2015 there have been 15 reported cases. This is terribly frightening, for if this disease is left untreated it has a 63-94% fatality. Luckily, this illness is caused by a bacteria that harbors in the fleas of rodents, named Yersinia pestis. This bacteria is treatable with antibiotics and only has a 16% fatality rate is done so. According to BBC News, the disease spread to the US via ships that landed in western port cities around 1900, spreading to local furry creatures. However, this sudden spike in cases is beginning to worry health officials all across the nation.
Cases this year are spread mostly through the westernmost regions; states with cases include California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and even Georgia and Michigan for now. These cases have mostly been reported in the summer, specifically in outdoor areas such as national parks and hiking trails. Rodents harboring fleas with the bacterium such as squirrels, rats, and ground hogs are common in these areas and are the popular suspects in these cases. As a precaution, park ranger officials have began to spray areas with high rodent traffic in order to kill off fleas. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing long pants and insect repellent when traveling in remote areas where rodents (dead or alive) could be. If you suspect you have come down with the rare, life-threatening disease, symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, black tissue, and other flu-like symptoms.
This outbreak is very concerning for the United States, as this disease is deadly as proven by the 4 deaths this year…and the millions in the earlier centuries. Both of my sources, BBC News and the CDC, say that the plague has had an unusual high amount of cases. Both also mention that rodents facilitate the spread of the disease through fleas that may be infected. BBC News mentions that it is nearly impossible to eradicate the disease since those furry creatures would have to be de-bugged one by one and same with their cozy homes. These sources help us face the reality that yes, a medieval disease will still coexist with us today.
What is worrying for us Minnesotans is how close the Michigan case is to us. This case was reported early September this year. If rodents in our upper Midwest region carry the flea-borne bacterium, we could face cases in the future too. This especially is concerning of us, as we like to spend lots of time outdoors and in nature year round. We even enjoy seeing our rodent friends like the squirrels on our hiking trails! Fortunately for us 21st century folks, modern day medicine has improved since the 14th century and we now know that the Black Death is very treatable with antibiotics. The spread of this disease could be contained easier, if an outbreak were to happen like in Europe. For now, us cautious Minnesotans can be confident in modern day medicine capabilities, but also use precautions as we use our hiking trails and travel to possibly infected states.