Certain epochs in history are defined by disease, but without exception the most legendary of all historical pandemics is The Black Death. It is believed that the pandemic was caused by a strain of bubonic plague, a disease that is considered rare today thanks to modern medicine. But it has not been completely eradicated, since a case of bubonic plague in Idaho was treated earlier this week.
According to USA Today the Department of Health of the Central District of Idaho announced on Tuesday the diagnosis of a child with bubonic plague. The patient, whose age and sex were not revealed, recovers after receiving antibiotics. According to health officials, it has not yet been determined whether the patient contracted the disease in his hometown, Elmore County, or on a recent trip to Oregon.
It is easy to establish the link between this case and one of the most deadly pandemics in history. Per Brittanica, The Black Death was carried out over a period of five years, between 1347 and 1351, in Elizabethan Europe. It resulted in the death of up to a third of the population of Europe. Keep in mind, however, that a single case of bubonic plague is no reason to believe that another pandemic is on the way.
The semantics surrounding this disease is critical. In the first place, the word "plague" does not simply mean an ancient generalized affliction. On the contrary, it is defined by Britannica as an infectious fever caused by a specific type of bacteria called Yersinia pestis. It is usually transmitted to humans by rodents that have been bitten by infected fleas. According to the Mayo Clinic, in humans, plague has three clinical presentations: pneumonic, septicemic and bubonic. Pneumonic plague (pneumonia) occurs when bacteria invade a person's lungs. It is the rarest of the three, but also the most dangerous. Pneumonic plague is highly contagious and can be transmitted through the drops of cough into the air. Septicemic plague occurs when bacteria invade a person's bloodstream.
Bubonic plague, the diagnosis in Idaho, is the most common of the three clinical presentations. It is characterized, according to the Mayo Clinic, by the presence of inflamed lymph nodes or buboes. These are typically observable in the armpits or groin.
Although an estimated 25 million people died as a result of the Black Death, according to National Geographic, the chances of this happening again due to the recent case in Idaho are virtually non-existent. Not only has medicine advanced much in the centuries after the pandemic, but new evidence suggests that the disease was not spread by rats. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that fleas and human body lice, not rats, probably played a role in the large number of people infected. Having a deeper insight into the details surrounding the Black Death allows the prevention of future pandemics.
Furthermore, this is not the first case of bubonic plague seen since the Black Death. USA Today reports that the correct cases of bubonic plague have been confirmed since 1990; eight in Oregon and two in Idaho.
In a press release from the Idaho Central District Health Department, officials acknowledge that a plague had been identified on ground squirrels in the Elmore and Ada regions of the state during 2015 and 2016. But, no unusual activities have been observed (or "deaths").
Epidemiologist Sarah Correll of the Idaho Central District Health Department says: "People can lower the risk by treating their pets against fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife." In addition, he suggests to people "Use insect repellent, long pants and socks when visiting areas affected by the plague."
However, it could be argued that using insect repellent and long pants is a good idea, even if you are not in an area affected by the plague. Other diseases transmitted by insects are also increasing.