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Bubonic Plague

  Jul 28, 2020

Bubonic Plague

Bayannur, a city in northern China, is on high alert after a suspected case of Bubonic plague was reported. 

Recently Authorities in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region announced a level III warning of plague prevention and control.

Q. What is the plague?

A. The plague is a disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which is found in animals, particularly rodents.

It can be transmitted to humans through infected animals and fleas. 

In the Middle Ages (5th-15th century), plague was also known as the ‘Black Death’ as it was responsible for the deaths of millions of people in Europe.

There are three types of plague:  

Bubonic plague: This infects a person’s lymphatic system (which is a part of their immune system), causing inflammation in the lymph nodes. If left untreated, the bubonic plague can also convert into either pneumonic of septicemic plague. Its symptoms include fever, chills, weakness and headaches.

Pneumonic plague: According to WHO, pneumonic plague is the ‘most virulent form of plague’ and can be fatal within 24 to 72 hours. It occurs when the bacteria infects the lungs. It is the only type of plague that can be transmitted from human to human. Symptoms are chest pain, fever and cough. It is highly contagious and transmissible merely by coughing.

Septicemic plague: This is when the bacteria enters the blood stream and multiplies there.

If left untreated, pneumonic and bubonic plague can lead to septicemic plague. A person infected by septicemic plague may also notice their skin turning black.

Q. How to treat and control plague?

A. The plague is a life-threatening disease but if caught early, can be treated with antibiotics. However, without prompt treatment, the disease can lead to serious illnesses and even death.

At times, antibiotics alone are not enough —additionally intravenous fluids and extra oxygen are required to treat a person.

Since it is highly contagious, those who are infected with pneumonic plague are kept in isolation.

And people in close contact with the person infected are given a dose of antibiotics as a preventive measure.

Other preventive measures to curb a plague outbreak are to keep the rodent population in control with pest control measures, ensuring that surrounding areas are clear of stacks of wood that rodents feed on among others.

Q. Was India too affected by plague earlier?

A. The Bubonic plague severely impacted India too.

The first official case was reported on 23 September 1896 in what was then Bombay. It was a part of the third plague pandemic, which originated in China in 1855.

The disease was spread in India through trading ships, hitting the port cities of Calcutta, Karachi, Punjab and United Provinces among others.

Over 12 million Indians were estimated to have succumbed to this disease.

The situation went so out of hand that it led to the Epidemic Disease Act of 1897 being ‘hastily’ drafted. The law has the “power to take special measures and prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease”

Q. How fatal is bubonic plague?

A. Bubonic plague can be a very severe disease in people, with a case-fatality ratio of 30 percent to 60 percent. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it can kill an adult in less than 24 hours if not treated in time. From 2010 to 2015, there were 3,248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths.

Historically, plague was responsible for widespread pandemics with high mortality. It was known as the "Black Death" during the fourteenth century, causing more than 50 million deaths in Europe. However, with the availability of antibiotics, the disease is largely treatable now.