Infectious Disease that Took Lives of Millions in 1400s Confirmed in Fleas, Prairie dogs in Arizona
The bubonic plague has resurfaced, claiming the headlines of major news outlets across the United States.
Yes, the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death — as in the infectious disease responsible for killing millions of Europeans in the Middle Ages — is very much alive and well.
Yes, you can still contract the disease today. And, no, it never was truly wiped out.
The World Health Organization estimates that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 cases of the plague reported worldwide each year. The bacterium named Yersinia pestis is responsible for the three forms of the plague and has been discovered in fleas in two Arizona counties during the month of August 2017. In June of the same year, there were three reported cases of the plague in Santa Fe County, New Mexico.
What is the Plague?
Plague is a disease caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria. During the 14th century, this illness spread across the world, killing between one-third and one-half of the population in areas of the outbreak. The CDC states that most human cases of the plague in the United States occur in Northern New Mexico, Southern Colorado, and Northern Arizona — some of the warmest and dryest parts of the country.
Three Forms of the Plague:
This is the most common form of the disease. Typically bubonic plague is contracted when an infected flea bites a human. Bubonic plague affects your immune system, causing swollen lymph nodes in the groin, neck, or armpit area. Additional symptoms include fever and chills, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches.
If left untreated, bubonic plague can move on to infect the blood, leading to septicemic plague or cause pneumonic plague.
Septicemic plague occurs when the bubonic plague is left untreated, allowing the plague bacteria to multiply in your blood stream. Additional symptoms of septicemic plague include fever and chills, extreme weakness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding from the mouth, nose, rectum or under the skin, as well as blackening (gangrene) of tissue in extremities most commonly fingers, toes, and nose.
As its name suggests, the pneumonic plague directly affects the lungs, as it is a rapidly accelerating form of severe pneumonia.
While this is the least common form of the plague, it is considered the most deadly and dangerous, as it is the only diagnosis of the disease that is spread from human to human. When a person with the pneumonic plague coughs, the bacteria living in their lungs enter the air, others breathing the same air are instantly exposed as the pneumonic plague is highly contagious. Additional symptoms may include cough with bloody sputum, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, high fever, headache, and weakness.
How is the Plague Transmitted?
The most common transmitter of the plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, is the flea. Fleas are infected by feeding on small mammals like rats, chipmunks, squirrels, or mice that are hosts to the bacteria. Fleas then transmit the plague bacteria to people or other mammals during a feeding.
It is also possible for humans to become infected if they have direct contact with tissues or fluid of an animal infected with the plague, whether the animal is dead or alive.
Treatment & Prognosis for the Plague
Unlike the times of the Middle Ages, the plague bacteria can be successfully treated with modern-day antibiotics. All forms of the plague can be treated once properly identified, but it can be deadly if left untreated.
A person diagnosed with the plague is typically hospitalized and, in the case of pneumonic plague, isolated. To prevent a high risk of death associated with pneumonic plague, antibiotics should be administered as soon as possible, preferably within 24 to 48 hours of the first symptoms.
If you have visited an area with a high likelihood of the plague virus being present and develop flu-like symptoms, notify your physician as soon as possible.
How to Prevent The Plague
To lower your risk of contracting the plague:
Do not handle sick or dead animal bodies. But if you must, then use gloves plus face and eye protection.
Avoid rodents (mice, rats) and rodent droppings.
Eliminate fleas from your home.
Avoid touching infected tissues, materials, or body fluids from a plague-infected mammal
Contact us today, for more information on receiving a free home inspection and a custom tailored plan to keep your home flea and pest free.