What comes to mind when you think of “The Plague”? A few months ago you probably thought that it was a long lost, eradicated disease that killed hundreds of thousands of people a long time ago. However, as a resurgence of the disease hit Madagascar in November, we all realized that we are never completely safe from diseases we thought were gone.
Is The Plague truly a threat? And if so, what do you need to know about it?
Is The Plague Truly a Threat?
The easy answer to this question is no, not today. It seems that it’s been contained to Madagascar. While nine other East African countries were threatened due to trade, no cases were found off the island. Also, while over 200 people were killed out of 2300+ people who were affected, that number peaked, leaving new cases pretty minimal today. That’s the short answer.
The long answer is, yes, possibly yes. Yes, the disease was contained and treated. However, in a time of world travel and world trade, you can never discount the possibility of the spread of any disease. So here’s the information you need.
How Does The Plague Even Start?
The Plague originates from a flea that carries a bacteria called Yersinia pestis from dead animals to live animals or humans. The bacteria enter the bloodstream, causing the infection.
Types of Plague
Bubonic Plague– The infection is localized to the lymph glands and ducts. Within a week fever, vomiting, and headaches occur as lymph glands swell and become painful. Eventually, extremities develop gangrene due to lack of blood supply. If left untreated by antibiotics, there is a 90% mortality rate.
Pneumonic Plague – The organism infects the lungs. This form is the most dangerous form because it can be spread from human to human. It still has the original source (flea bite), but can be transmitted by microdroplets from breathing, coughing, sneezing or through mucus. This infection causes coughing, eventually coughing up blood and ultimately, respiratory and circulatory failure. There is a 100% mortality rate if left untreated by antibiotics.
Septic Plague– The infection spreads to the blood. This can cause super-infections that can shut down organs, also causing death.
Again, there are no known cases outside of Madagascar, so there is no indication that there is a definite threat. However, for precautionary purposes, there are some things you can do to prevent infection.
1- Invest in particulate masks. When traveling keep a mask close by. If you notice extreme coughing, wear the mask. Even if you aren’t concerned about the Plague, other respiratory diseases can easily be transmitted in airplanes, trains, etc.
2- Check with your doctor/pharmacy to ensure they have easy access to the antibiotics Streptomycin and Tetracycline, which have been proven to treat the infection. If administered within 24 hours of the infection, chances of survival are significantly greater. If a pandemic ever occurs, you need to make sure you have access to the appropriate medications. There is no immunization so treatment is the best option.
Luckily the risk for a Plague pandemic was localized and minimized fairly quickly. However, it was a good reminder that we are not immune to diseases we thought were eradicated.