Bubonic Plague in the 21st Century: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Bubonic Plague is described as an infectious disease that spreads easily and, without antibiotics treatment, can be fatal. The plague has caused more fear and terror than perhaps any other infectious disease in history. It has killed nearly 200 million people and has produced monumental changes, such as marking the end of the Dark Ages and causing the advancement of clinical research in medicine.

Bubonic plague is the best-known manifestation of the bacterial disease plague. Plague is caused by the gram-negative, nonmotile, nonspomlating bacillus Yersinia pestis. It is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of a flea from an infected rodent host, such as a rat, squirrel, prairie dog, or hare. Occasionally, transmission occurs from handling infected animals or their tissues. Bubonic plague is often used synonymously for plague, but it does in fact refer specifically to an infection that enters through the skin and travels through the lymphatics, as is often seen in flea-borne infections.

More than 200 different rodents and species can serve as hosts. These include domestic cats and dogs, squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, deer mice, rabbits, hares, rock squirrels, camels, and sheep.
The bacteria can be found mainly in rats and in the fleas that feed on them. People and other animals can get plague from rat or flea bites.

A flea, having ingested plague-infected blood from its host, can live for as much as a month away from that host before he needs to find another warm body to live on.The cause of plague, the Yersinia pestis bacterium, was discovered in 1894 by Alexandre Yersin. Soon after, scientists realized that fleas transmitted the bacteria.The bacteria responsible for the plague and some forms of food poisoning “paralyze” the immune system of their hosts in an unexpected way.

The Black Death pandemic in the 14th century killed one-third of Europe’s population. Europeans living during early pandemics believed the disease was a punishment from the gods or an unlucky confluence of astrological or supernatural elements. In the early 1330s an outbreak of deadly bubonic plague occurred in China.

The most recent plague pandemic began in China in the late 1800s and, due to booming international trade and ships with high rat populations, spread quickly throughout Asia and other parts of the world. That outbreak caused more than 12 million deaths in India and China alone.Bubonic plague is notorious for the historic pandemics in Europe and Asia during the Middle Ages, which in some areas killed up to two-thirds of the population. This form is rarely transmitted from person to person.

Bubonic plague affects the lymph nodes (another part of the lymph system). Within 3 to 7 days of exposure to plague bacteria, you will develop flu-like symptoms starting with a headache. Then chills and fever, which left exhausted and prostrate. You will experience nausea, vomiting, back pain, soreness in arms and legs. Bright light too bright to stand, and within a day or two, the swellings appear. They will be hard, painful, burning lumps on neck, under arms, on inner thighs.

This is the most common type of plague in humans, accounting for the majority of naturally occurring cases is Septicemic plague. Septicemic plague occurs when plague bacteria multiply in your bloodstream. You can contract this form of plague when bacteria transmitted by a fleabite enter directly into your bloodstream, or as a complication of bubonic or pneumonic plague.The incubation period for plague is two to six days for bubonic plague and two to four days for primary pneumonic plague.

A few days after being infected, a victim develops a rash and there is massive body pain. The victim begins to feel tired and lethargic but the pain makes it difficult to sleep. The temperature of the body increases and begins to affect the brain and the central nervous system.

As soon as a diagnosis of suspected plague is made, the patient should be isolated, and local and state health departments should be notified. Confirmatory laboratory work should be initiated, including blood cultures and examination of lymph node specimens if possible. When plague is suspected and diagnosed early, a health care provider can prescribe specific antibiotics (generally streptomycin or gentamycin). Certain other antibiotics are also effective.

Antibiotics are the accepted treatment for bubonic plague, and the patient is hospitalized and placed in isolation even before lab results are known. Without prompt treatment, the bacteria can quickly multiply in the bloodstream or spread to the lungs.

This usually results in death, so be very careful when you are in areas inhabited by rodents, like outdoor camping.

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