The name of the plague is now the most terrifying aspect of it.
Given Yersinia pestis’ history, the ominous label is appropriate: Throughout history, three catastrophic epidemics have killed more than half of the population.
It might be terrifying to learn that individuals have contracted the plague and perished as a result of it.
The truth is that, despite its name, the plague is merely another deadly bacterial species.
We can now identify individuals with pneumonic plague and treat them with medicines before they cough out bacteria droplets for others to inhale.
However, the microorganism persists, primarily in animal populations. It appears in humans on rare occasions.
However, this does not guarantee that you will contract the plague.
In fact, in the great scheme of today’s infectious illnesses, it’s one of the least probable microorganisms for the ordinary American to come into contact with—even if they traverse the globe.
But, since you’ve asked, here’s a rundown of how you could come into contact with this chronic illness.
The Justinian Plague, which began in 541 AD, was the world’s first major encounter with Yersinia pestis.
Then, in the 1340s, came the even more sinister-sounding Black Death or Great Plague, which killed well over half of Europe’s population at the time.
The Modern Plague, which began in China in the 1860s, completes the list.
Scientists finally identified the illness as a bacterial infection spread to humans by fleas.
Rats, mice, and squirrels would die from the bacterium, and their fleas would seek out the next living species—humans.
In early twentieth century India, Vietnam, and most recently Sub-Saharan Africa, the CDC reports the bulk of instances.
It can also be seen on occasion in United States. Most people in New Mexico, for example, are aware of the disease and are aware that they may get it.
We’ve been able to avoid any additional outbreaks because of improved cleanliness.
“Outbreaks aren’t as common as they were in the Middle Ages, and this is due to improved cleanliness.
People used to sleep on the ground on hay mattresses,” recalls Sandra Melman, an epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health.
“There was no pest control, either. Households are now considerably more effective at keeping pests such as mice and rats out.”
Despite its rapid lethality (the bacteria only takes a few days to incubate before killing).
Yersinia Pestis is very resistant to antimicrobial therapies.
Before the discovery of antibiotics in the 1940s, the plague killed around 66 percent of those infected, particularly the sick , old.
However, once we got medicines to treat it, the numbers fell dramatically.
In the United States today, the plague is only fatal in around 11% of cases.
Why the plague hasn’t been eradicated?
While flea bites probably caused most human plague cases in the past.
the bacterium swiftly spread among rat populations as well.
Although the infections were virtually eradicated in the city, urban rats, the illness spread to rural rodent populations.
According to the CDC, it is these carriers that have allowed the bacteria to survive to this day.
In the early 1900s, the plague arrived in the United States on commercial trading ships passing through numerous port towns, including those on the west coast, such as San Francisco.
The bacteria then spread to rural regions across the country via fleas, rats, and other animals.
It has remained endemic to the four corners (where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet) and other regions of the west and southwest.
Even though it has all but died out in other parts of the country.
Between 2000 and 2009, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene recorded 21,725 instances of plague.
Around 7.5 percent of those instances resulted in death. They were mostly in Africa.
In the United States, just 56 people were affected with 7 of them dying.
These incidents happened primarily in New Mexico, but also in Colorado, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Nevada.
As of 2015, the CDC had verified 11 more cases of the plague, spread throughout those states (excluding Nevada) and one in Georgia.
According to Sandra Melman, the explanation is due to the unique rodent populations that thrive in the area.
Prairie dogs are especially susceptible to the bacteria, according to Melman, with the plague wiping out 95 to 99 percent of afflicted populations.
“When this happens, hungry fleas, rats, and other animals scavenge the prairie dogs’ remaining food. And they move from where the prairie dogs are to where humans are,” Melman explains.
“This is referred to as epizootic event.”
This is also why the plague is so difficult to eradicate.
“Once you have more than one host and vector, you would have to eliminate all rodents, fleas, other animals that have come into contact,” Melman explains.
Prairie dogs are only found in certain parts of the country.
The environment is not ideal for these animals beyond the 100th Meridian, where the Great Plains begin, according to Melman.
The likelihood of the plague remaining endemic in any region decreases without prairie dogs.
Why New Mexico specifically?
According to Malman, the plague is more likely to spread there than in neighboring states because most residents live in rural areas where plague-carrying animals are more common.
Indeed, in recent years, it has been home to nearly half of all human cases of the plague in the United States.
Each year, a small number of instances are reported in the Land of Enchantment, including both humans, animals such as dogs, rats.
New Mexico announced its first verified incidence of the plague in an animal this year in April, in the form of a ranch dog in Quay County, east of Albuquerque.
That can be frightening for individuals who live in these possibly plague-infested places.
If you reside in a plague-prone area, though, simply keep informed about the symptoms.
There are three types of plague: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic.
All three illnesses produce fever, chills, and malaise, but pneumonic can cause pneumonia-like symptoms in the lungs, septicemic can cause blackened hands and feet, and bubonic can cause enlarged, bulb-like lymph nodes in the armpits and groin.
It’s critical to recognize the signs of this bacterial illness as soon as possible. In around 50 to 60 percent of patients, the plague becomes fatal without antibiotic therapy.
The start of the sickness is the greatest method to identify if you have the plague or any other ailment, according to Melman.
“In most cases, a person will be fine before becoming extremely ill with fevers of 102, 103, or 104, which will strike very quickly.
You’re fine until you wake up and it hits you like a tonne of bricks.”She also claims that the pneumonic form, unlike bubonic or septicemic, is the most contagious.
She claims that in New Mexico, once a person with this form of plague has been discovered, everybody with whom that person has come into touch is treated with antibiotics.
The best strategy, according to Melman, is prevention.
Pet dogs, cats should not be allowed to wander freely, and flea treatment should be administered to them.
Cook the meat properly and carefully for hunters in remote regions.
While most New Mexicans are aware of the epidemic, public health initiatives and education are essential for newcomers and visitors.
It’s quite improbable that you’ll contract the plague if you don’t reside in a region where the disease has been diagnosed.
Regardless, keep in mind that, despite its name, this infection is easily treatable with medicines. It is critical to recognize the signs and get appropriate therapy.