The death of one teenager in Colorado brought the mysterious bubonic plague back to the public attention.
What is the plague and how come it is still around when most accounts place it in horrific disease ridden historic annals are a few questions on everyone’s mind.
Tylor Gaes is the most recent reported victim of this infectious bacteria. The Larimer County Health Department confirmed that the 16 year old died on June 8th after contacting the plague, most probably from fleas or possibly rodents found on the family’s estates.
His death marked the first case of the plague in Colorado since 1999.
If asked about plague, most of us would bring back to memory the history manual detailing the Black Death and the disease scourge of the Middle Ages.
Yet, Yersinia pestis as the bacteria causing the plague is known, is alive and well. Its place does not belong yet to the annals of history, except perhaps to remind us of the advancing steps humanity has taken in terms of hygiene and sanitation.
Historically, it’s been a hard task to really understand what the plague was and when it took hold of the large regions that it pitched into chaos.
Now, although there is more medical information made available, the low rate of incidence and the similarity of symptoms with common influenzas make it as confusing as ever.
Sharon Collinge of the University of Colorado-Boulder explained:
“The tragedy in most cases is that people don’t realize what they have and think they have the flu”.
Luckily, like more severe cases of the flu, infection with Yersinia pestis is also treatable with antibiotics if discovered in due time. Plague infects the body by travelling through lymph nodes. There are three different manifestations of the plague, each more complicated than the other.
Firstly, if Yersinia pestis attacks the lymph nodes, then the result is black and blue, gangrenous looking lymphs. This is the form that is synonymous with the Black Death and bubonic plague.
Secondly, Yersinia pestis infects the blood, which results in septicemic plague. Thirdly, the lungs can fall victim to the Yersinia pestis infection, resulting in pneumonic plague.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from reported cases of the plague in the U.S., 80 percent are found to be of bubonic plague.
Also, since 1970, the U.S. registered at most a few dozen cases of plague yearly. The majority were reported in Western States.
At a global level, Asia, South America as well as Africa register the highest number of plague cases.
The Yersinia pestis travels and is passed on by rodents such as ground squirrels, rats or prairie dogs. The fleas that also parasite these animals pass it on to humans. Sometimes, it happens that the infection comes directly from the rodents or pets.
Yet, hailed be modern sanitation and laws, as well as medical advances that in the scarce cases of plague infection may help with just antibiotic treatment. Provided of course, that the symptoms are reported in due time.
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