An unabated pandemic, wildfires, earthquakes, cyclones, riots, and the list goes on! Well, here’s a piece of advice about 2020: hold your breath every time you say this year cannot get any worse because chances are that it will prove you wrong. Coming back to the pandemic, now that the scientists across the world are finally inching closer to a possible vaccine for the novel coronavirus, the possibility of yet another malady has taken the world by a storm.
The Chinese authorities in the inner regions of Mongolia went on a high alert this Sunday after a suspected case of bubonic plague was reported in the region. Known as the “Black Death,” this is a centuries-old malady that is infamous for claiming the lives of 50 million people in the 14th century as it effectively annihilated 1/3rd population of the world.
From Shakesperian plays to historical annals, the plague has been described at length in a number of literary documents since then, each account as ghastly as the other. In fact, while leafing through your history books, chances are that you might have come across pictures of crow beaked masks that were worn by the doctors back then to protect themselves from the infection and looked as sombre as the sound of the name 'Black Death.'
That said, here’s a question to ponder upon: will the bubonic plague impact us in a similar way as it did in the 14th century if it actually lives up to its pandemic potential? As the world shudders in fear at the mere mention of another pandemic, here’s all that you need to know about the bubonic plague:
WHO defines plague as “a disease of rodents and their fleas, which can infect humans. It is transmitted between rodents by rodent fleas, and can be transmitted to people when infected rodent fleas bite them.”
As per the organisation, there are three main plagues in humans namely bubonic, septicaemic, and pneumonic. And while pneumonic tends to be the deadliest, bubonic Plague is the most common in which a bacteria (Yersinia pestis) travels to the nearest lymph nodes (immune system glands that play a vital role in your body's ability to fight off infections) and causes swelling.
With a recorded mortality rate of 30% to 60%, the plague impacts the host by impacting their lymph nodes. The most common of the symptoms happen to be a very apparent swelling in the groin. However, the swelling can also be observed in the armpits and neck.
Apart from the bulbous swelling, the other symptoms of bubonic plague resemble that of flu and include vomiting, fever, and other markers of cold.
The bubonic plague spreads through infected fleas or animals, like rodents, hares, or squirrels, which can be passed onto humans when they are bitten or scratched. As per the CDC, a flea bite is the most common way in which someone can contract the plague. That said, person to person transmission of the plague only happens in the case of pneumonic plague.
Okay, so the bubonic plague indeed sounds really scary. The name “Balck death” or the mortality rates do not help either. But here’s something that we need to know: unlike the 14th century, experts and scientists now know how the plague spreads. We have antibiotics to treat the bubonic plague and recovery by this plaque is very common given the treatment starts on time.
Assuming that there’s an outbreak of plague in a particular region, it is understood that we’d be more vigilant to the symptoms and thus report to the health officials in time.
While the first recorded instance of plague dates back to the 14th century, it has indeed returned in smaller phases since then. As per WHO, the last bout was recorded between 2010 and 2015, claimed 584 lives out of the total 3428 affected, and had a fatality rate of 18%.
And while the plague hasn’t really vanished, disappeared, or eliminated altogether, our defense mechanism and understanding of it have certainly improved. As Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, a physician specialising in infectious diseases at Stanford Health Care, shared with Healthline, “Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted. We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is the transmission.”
That said, a second pandemic right now of course is not the best-case scenario. However, we also need to remember that we should stop reading the ghastly 14th century accounts that'll not help the case and would only add on to our anxiety. The need right now is to understand that the isolated cases as reported in China are just being assumed to have pandemic potential, there has not been any reported outbreak as of now, and the world is way better equipped to fight it now than it was back in the 14th century.
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