This post is by Bernie Carr,
I heard on the news yesterday that a case of bubonic plague has occurred in China’s Inner Mongolia region.
Yes, it’s the same plague that caused the Black Death that killed over 50 million in Europe back in the Middle Ages. The disease is transmitted between animals by fleas, and can be transmitted from animals to humans.
Before you say, “not another 2020 disaster!” let’s look at the facts.
According to Reuters, authorities in the city of Bayan Nur in Inner Mongolia, issued a “third level” alert (out of a possible four levels) warning residents:
- not to hunt or kill animals that could carry plague
- report suspected cases of plague or fever that don’t appear to have any known causes
- report any sick or dead marmots
Types of plague
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) there are three types of plague, all stemming from the Yersinia pestis bacteria:
Bubonic – lymph nodes are infected. This is the plague that was widespread in the middle ages. Symptoms include: fever, headache, chills, and weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes. This is spread by infected flea bites.
Septicemic – blood infection. Symptoms are: chills, fever, extreme weakness, stomach pain, shock, and possibly bleeding into the skin and other organs. Skin and other tissues such as fingers, toes or the nose may turn black and die. Septicemic plague can result from Bubonic plague infection. This is also spread by fleas or touching infected animals.
Pneumonic – lung infection. Symptoms are: fever, headache, weakness, and pneumonia with shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, and bloody or watery mucous, leading to respiratory failure and shock. According to the CDC: “Pneumonic plague is the most serious form of the disease and is the only form of plague that can be spread from person to person (by infectious droplets).”
The current case reported in Inner Mongolia is the “bubonic” type. However, we do know that there were four other cases of plague in China back in 2019.
How does it spread?
The plague spreads from bites of infected fleas, touching or skinning sick animals (rodents such as rats, prairie dogs, squirrels, rabbits), inhaling droplets from coughs of sick humans or animals.
Is the plague treatable?
Thanks to antibiotics, the plague is treatable. According to the CDC, plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics, as long as the patient gets prompt care. If not treated early, plague can lead to serious complications and death. There is no vaccine for the plague.
Plague in the U.S.
The plague first appeared in the U.S. back in 1900, when steamships infested with rats docked in port cities. Epidemics occurred in port cities, with the last one in Los Angeles back in 1924 to 1925. The disease spread from urban rats to rural rodents and scattered cases continue to appear from time to time.
The CDC tracks cases of plague in the U.S. The numbers range from one to 17 cases per year, mostly in the following regions:
- Northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, and southern Colorado
- California, southern Oregon, and far western Nevada
How do you protect yourself?
The CDC recommends:
1. Eliminate nesting places for rodents around homes, sheds, garages, and recreation areas by removing brush, rock piles, trash, and excess firewood.
2. Avoid picking up or touching dead animals.
3. Wear gloves if you must handle sick or dead animals.
4. Report sick or dead animals to the local health department or law enforcement officials.
5. Do not let pets sleep in the bed with you. This has been shown to increase your risk of getting plague.
6. Use insect repellent that contains DEET to prevent flea bites.
7. Treat dogs and cats for fleas regularly.
8. Keep pet food in rodent-proof containers.
9.Take sick pets to the veterinarian promptly.
10. Do not allow pets to hunt or roam in rodent habitat, such as prairie dog colonies.
Should we be worried?
There’s no doubt that plague is a serious disease and should not be dismissed lightly. However, at this point the alert given to the residents in the city where the case was found is the second to the lowest level. The patient was treated and no other cases have been reported so far. And, the fact is, plague is already present here in the U.S., and it is treatable. If you live in the western U.S. and spend a lot of time outdoors, be mindful of the prevention tips outlined above.
As with other types of threats, it is always good to be aware, and to monitor any developments and alerts.
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About the author:
Bernie Carr is the founder of Apartment Prepper. She has written several books including the best-selling Prepper’s Pocket Guide, Jake and Miller’s Big Adventure, The Penny-Pinching Prepper and How to Prepare for Most Emergencies on a $50 a Month Budget. Her work appears in sites such as the Allstate Blog and Clark.com, as well as print magazines such as Backwoods Survival Guide and Prepper Survival Guide. She has been featured in national publications such as Fox Business and Popular Mechanics. Learn more about Bernie here.