The news of the origin of a new potential epidemic in China has taken the world by storm. On 1 July, Khovd province in Western Mongolia reported 2 suspected cases of bubonic plague.
The cases reported were of a 26-year old man and his 17-year old brother, who contracted the infection after consuming marmot meat. As soon as the news of the infection broke out, Bayannur, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, announced a level III plague prevention and control warning in the city. Apart from this, 146 people who came in contact with the suspected patients are also currently isolated.
1. What is the Bubonic Plague?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), bubonic plague is an infection caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis which lives in mammals and rat fleas. It can be transmitted between animals, and can also break the species barrier to transmit the disease to humans. However, human to human transmission of this disease is rarely seen. The animal to human transmission of this disease can occur via the following ways:
- Direct inhalation of droplets from an infected person
- Bite of an infected vector flea
- Unprotected contact with contagious body fluids and surfaces
2. Is Bubonic Plague Deadly?
Bubonic plague is a rare but serious illness. Yersinia pestis is a clever bacteria, which can kill you by cutting off the communication of your body cells with the immune system. The immune system helps our body to fight and ward off germ invasions. But if the communication channel between our body cells and the immune system is cut off, then our body is rendered defenseless against the germ invasion.
According to WHO, bubonic plague has a fatality rate of 30-60%. Taking cognizance of the situation, the Chinese government has urged it’s people to report any infected or dead rodents. The government officials have also asked the people to refrain from eating rodent meat.
3. Symptoms of Bubonic Plague:
Our immune system is the main target for bubonic plague. If it is left untreated, then it may spread to our lungs and ultimately become septic. Symptoms of bubonic plague are as follows:
- Sudden onset of fever
- Chills, headache and body ache
- Painful swollen lymph nodes
4. Does Bubonic Plague Have a History?
Bubonic plague was known as ‘Black death‘ in the middle ages, and had wiped out almost 1/3rd of the European population in the 1300s. It killed millions of people in the entire world in three major pandemics. The third plague outbreak in 1894 was caused along the opium trade routes in Yunnan. The disease occurred in 1986 in India, and killed over 12 million people.
Amid concerns about the development of bubonic plague cases in China, Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the City University of New York, stated that it’s highly unlikely for bubonic plague to turn into an epidemic. While no vaccine has been developed in the world against bubonic plague, modern antibiotic treatments have been quite successful in preventing further complications and death. Before the development of modern medicine, plague was a terrifying disease but not anymore. This is 2020, and we are sanguine about the capabilities of doctors all over the world to fight this disease!