The life of an innocent boy, aged 15, has been claimed by the bubonic plague. The young child was a herder, working in the small village of Ichke-Zhergez in Kyrgyzstan.
According to the Telegraph, the boy’s death was confirmed by a Kyrgyzstani minister, who alleges the boy to have died Thursday in a local hospital of Karakol, one of the country’s largest cities. Officials speculate the herder to have been bitten by a flea, a vector that is renowned for carrying the bubonic plague.
As a precautionary measure, anyone who had been in contact with the boy, just prior to his death, has been placed in isolation to circumvent any potential spread; this totals 105 individuals, including medical practitioners who were responsible for his treatment.
The bubonic plague is caused by a bacteria, called Yersinia pestis. The bacteria initially infects fleas, which are capable of hitching a ride on other animals, particularly rodents. As a consequence, highly urbanized areas are ideal for the bacteria to cycle between rodents and their fleas.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the last urban outbreak transpired in Los Angeles, starting in 1924. Since this incident, in America, infection is primarily confined to dry forests and grassland and rural locations of the west. These areas are particularly vulnerable to dissemination of the bacterial disease, as there are many different species of rodent roaming through the habitat; this includes prairie dogs, mice, rabbits, squirrels, voles and wood rats. However, according to the World Health Organization, nine tenths of all cases are identified in the African continent.
As was claimed in the case of the young boy, human transmission typically involves flea bites, causing the bubonic form of the plague. Fleas have a proclivity towards feeding on rodents. However, once a rodent perishes, the flea requires an alternative source for its blood-meals. If other animals, including humans, enter regions where flee-riddled rodents have recently expired, they too become prone to infection. Alternatively, cats and dogs also pick up flees during their travels; if these creatures bring the afore-mentioned flees back into the household, flees are then able to spread to humans through exposure to their beloved pets.
The young herder’s body was immediately cremated and buried to limit the disease spread. In addition, the country’s sanitation department has dispatched several teams to subdue the rat population and investigate samples of rodent corpses.
Human beings can also contract the septicemic plague when they come into contact with infected fluid or tissue matter of animal carcasses. On the other hand, pneumonic plague develops when an individual inhales contaminated droplets, which are released from the airways of an infected animal; this is the only means that the bubonic plague can spread on a person-to-person basis.
All in all, there are three different forms of the plague, characterized as follows:
- Bubonic plague: bacteria rapidly multiplies within the patient’s lymph nodes, nearest the bite, and can then spread to other regions through the lymphatic system. Symptoms include feverish conditions, weakness and inflamed, swollen lymph nodes (buboes)
- Septicemic plague: septicemic infection may eventually follow the bubonic plague, or through handling infected remains, with tissue turning black and necrotic. Symptoms include feverish conditions, weakness, bleeding and shock
- Pneumonic plague: results from inhaling infected droplets, or develops from unmanaged bubonic/septicemic plague. Pneumonic plague is very serious, manifesting as coughing, expulsion of mucous and blood from the airways, shortness of breath, chest pangs and respiratory failure, alongside feverish symptoms
During the “Black Death,” the plague claimed the lives of tens of millions of citizens of Europe during the 14th century. It had originated in China and swiftly passed along the extensive trading routes to reach the heart of Europe. However, this wasn’t the last we saw of the deadly disease. The Modern Plague (again, beginning in China) was carried by ship-bound rats to every corner of the world, and killed approximately ten million people.
Eventually, scientists understood that a bacteria was the root cause of the catastrophic disease, and that it had been transmitted via the rat population. Now the disease has been almost completely eradicated in urban areas; many suggest its abatement has been brought about through improved hygiene, cleaner air and implementation of quarantine measures.
Officials claim this is the first time in 30 years that Kyrgyzstan has witnessed a case of the bubonic plague. In the wake of the young boy’s death, authorities have cautioned its population over panicking as there are plentiful stocks of antibiotics to prevent an epidemic, and transportation of farm animals is now restricted.
By: James Fenner