Why Isn’t the Plague a Thing of the Past?

The last time there was a large outbreak of the Bubonic Plague was 1925 in Los Angeles. Today we have ended diseases such as polio and small pox with the use of vaccines. We can even treat and cure the Black Death with antibiotics. With all this progress, why should we be concerned about the Black Death today in Minnesota?

I started my research online with a 2015 article from the BBC (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34398099). I learned that each year there is an average of seven cases of the plague in the United States. It can infect people in three ways; the most common affects the lymph nodes, another infects the blood and the final infects the lungs. It can be hard to detect because at first the symptoms look like the common flu, but as the disease progresses there can be symptoms such as painful swelling of the lymph nodes and gangrene. A simple lab test can identify the bacteria.

Part of the reason it is called a plague is because it spreads so easily and rapidly. Back in the 14th century where there were crowded, unsanitary living conditions, and people did not understand medicine, the plague caused about 50 million deaths. My research led me to a source living in Florence, Italy during the plague (http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/decameronintro.asp). He noted that whenever the sick were around the healthy, the disease spread like wildfire. He said that in the Orient the disease usually started with bleeding and from what I learned from the BBC, this would be the septicaemic strain. In Europe he reported sickness started with swelling and bumps in the armpit and groin. These symptoms show what we now know is the bubonic strain of the plague.

They learned that even touching something handled or worn by the sick would pass along the disease. They did not know the original source, which was bites from fleas from infected rodents. Rodents are responsible for the disease spreading to the United States in the 1900, coming over on the ships. After someone is infected, the disease can become airborne.

In the United States, cases of infected animals are mainly in western states. The most common carriers are prairie dog fleas. If the plague comes to Minnesota, it will probably not be spread by rodents. Instead, Minnesota is under more of a threat of the plague being brought here by travelers from other countries. The disease is still a problem in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. Since it starts with common flu-like symptoms, it is possible someone could be unaware he or she has the disease and travel, which could end up beginning the spread of the plague in our own state.

Like the BBC article says, the only way we could completely eradicate the Plague is if we were to exterminate all rodents, which isn’t very plausible. Perhaps with modern science, a simple vaccination of rodents could be the start of ridding our country of this disease from the middle ages.


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