Is the Black Death Making a Comeback?

Megan Sigismonti, Co-Editor-In-Chief

On November 12, two people in China were diagnosed with pneumonic plague, also known as the Black Death. The Black Death was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. During the Middle Ages, the plague killed 50 million people. According to CNN, the two patients are from Inner Mongolia, and are currently receiving treatment in Beijing’s Chaoyang District. 

In an article by the Washington Post, on November 5, a fifty-five year old hunter in China ate wild rabbit, contracting the disease. He came into contact with twenty-eight other people, who are now in quarantine. And back in May, a Mongolian couple died from bubonic plague as a result of a local folk health remedy: consuming a raw kidney of a marmot.

With these three cases in mind, is the Black Death Plague really making a return? Well, no, it technically never left. According to the World Health Organization, or W.H.O., there have been approximately 50,000 cases in the last twenty years. And from 2010 to 2015, there have been 3,248 cases with 584 deaths. So no, the plague isn’t making a return, as small strands of it have always remained; however, W.H.O. has recently categorized the plague as a re-emerging disease.

Plague is caused by bacteria called Yersinia pestis that is transmitted through flea bites and infected animals. It can also be spread through human fleas and lice. Patients with plague can experience symptoms such as body aches, nausea, vomiting, and overall weakness. There are three types of plague: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. Bubonic plague results in swollen lymph nodes, septicemic plague infects the blood, and pneumonic plague infects the lungs. Pneumonic plague is the most dangerous and according to W.H.O., if left untreated it is always fatal.

There is no effective vaccine, but there are antibiotics that can prevent further complications.

W.H.O. has developed eight key ways to treat the disease as safely and successfully as possible. First, find and stop the source of infection; second, protect health workers; third, ensure correct treatment; fourth, isolate the patients; fifth, surveill the disease; sixth, obtain the specimens; seventh, disinfect the site of infection; and lastly, ensure safe burial practices.

Besides antibiotics, there are other ways through which the spread of the plague can be limited. For instance, eliminating nesting areas for rodents, reporting sick and dead animals, and using the insect repellent DEET. In addition, the bacterium Yersinia pestis may be spread through human fleas and lice. Thus, taking care of one’s hygiene can play a huge role in combating this re-emerging disease.

The Black Death Plague may have never left, but its recent re-emerging status is definitely alarming. Let’s just hope it stays re-emerging, and nothing more.