Health authorities in China have recently admitted that instances of the bubonic plague have been identified in the Chinese region known as ‘Inner Mongolia’. The bubonic plague is the infamous infection that triggered the ‘Black Death’ pandemic in medieval Europe, killing off nearly one-third of the erstwhile European population.
This case was first confirmed by the Chinese on the 5th of July, 2020. A herdsman hailing from the northern city of Bayannur was the first person to be diagnosed with the disease.
Local authorities immediately issued a third-level alert. People were advised to avoid transporting, eating, or hunting animals which might potentially be carriers of the disease. In late 2019, the Chinese government had announced that three persons in the country had contracted the pneumonic plague.
Bubonic Plague: Fears of a New Global Pandemic
These factors have caused alarm bells to go off across the planet. People dealing with the ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, which also originated in China, fear the spread of another deadly disease across the globe. These fears are exacerbated by the fact that the bubonic plague is perhaps the most infamous disease in the world.
Unlike Covid-19, however, we now have clear and effective treatments for the bubonic plague. The disease is quite rare, but a few cases of the bubonic plague are recorded every year in the United States. Most people who contract the disease in the 21st century ultimately survive, unlike their predecessors in 14th century Europe.
Hence, scientists are confident that there is almost no chance of a global pandemic of the bubonic plague. We are not likely to have another Black Death decimating over a quarter of the global population anytime soon.
According to Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda of Stanford Health Care, we now have a clear understanding of how the bubonic plague is transmitted, unlike in the 14th century. Hence, prevention and containment will not be a problem if the disease begins to spread, either in China or elsewhere.
Moreover, effective antibiotics for the bubonic plague have been developed, which will facilitate treatment and minimize the mortality rate. People who have been exposed to the disease-causing bacteria can be provided with the antibiotics before they start showing any symptoms, thus preventing them from getting sick in the first place.
Causes and Symptoms of the Disease
A type of bacteria known as Yersinia pestis causes the bubonic plague, which is essentially an acute infection of the lymphatic system. Infected animals and fleas are the predominant carriers of this disease. The plague is passed to humans when they get bitten or scratched by an infected insect or animal.
Some of the common symptoms associated with the bubonic plague include vomiting, fever, organ failure, bleeding, and open sores. Unless it is treated immediately, the bacteria often spreads throughout the bloodstream and causes septicemic plague, a life-threatening infection of the blood. If the lungs are infected by the bacteria, then severe pneumonia can occur as a result.
The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that the bubonic plague can have a mortality rate of up to 60 percent without proper and timely treatment. But the chances of a person getting the disease are extremely low, unless they happen to touch an animal that is carrying the plague bacteria.
Unlike in the Middle Ages, when Europe’s population was decimated by the bubonic plague, the disease can now be cured in most cases. The availability of antibiotics, which work best if administered within 24 hours of the first symptoms being seen, has lowered the mortality rate to about 11 percent. Preventive antibiotics can also be given to individuals who have been exposed to the bacteria but are not showing any symptoms yet.
Despite the fact that new cases of the bubonic plague in China are making headlines across the world, physicians and health experts believe that an epidemic is extremely unlikely. However, caution is of paramount importance, and if any relevant symptoms are noticed, they should definitely be reported to local health authorities as soon as possible.