Black Death and Drug-Resistant Gene Strains

Black Death, commonly known as the plague, began in the mid-1300s and lasted for four hundred years. It was caused by Yersinia pestis which traveled on fleas and small rodents that would infect humans in close proximity. Although treatable today, no form of antibiotic existed to treat this infectious disease. The pandemic was so disastrous that it eradicated between a fourth and a third of the European population after just a few years succeeding its arrival. An overall lack of understanding diseases, how they spread, and how to combat them exacerbated the affect of the plague on the world.

The dearth of understanding diseases during the dark ages closely connects to our limited understanding of how to combat drug-resistant gene strains. Kate Kelland, a Reuters Health and Science Correspondent, addressed this in her article discussing how both people and pigs have been found with a “new gene that makes bacteria highly resistant to a last-resort class of antibiotics…” This new gene has the ability to spread to other bacteria as well. As a result, this gene has the capacity to spread with “epidemic potential.”

I was curious as to what made Black Death so deadly; why it had the aptness for being so widespread and destructive. A limited ability and understanding of how to prevent the disease from spreading–similarly with drug-resistant genes in a recent study–was the primary contributor to this. This study suggests that the excessive use of antimicrobial drugs and the ease at which the genes can spread are primary factors in this growth of drug-resistant genes.

During the dark ages, through trial and error new treatments were able to be developed. Concoctions of herbs and other remedies were developed to help subdue symptoms of the disease. Stronger antimicrobial drugs must be used to prevent strains with higher resistance levels, until they become too resistant for any drug. With the plague supposed cures would be tried until they either helped, or the individual died. New methods of combating these drug resistant strains will be developed until they are either stopped from spreading at high rates, or the world falls into a great pandemic from these bacteria.

This is particularly interesting as it seems some sickness is always going around Minnesota. Often times it is just a cold, but if it is caused by a bacteria that we are unable to combat it could make things quite problematic. These new strains of bacteria could wreak havoc upon Minnesota, and the world if no countermeasures are developed, or growth stemmed. Like with curing the plague, doctors must first understand the disease or strain before being able to treat it.





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