In recent weeks, some cases of bubonic plague have been detected in China and neighboring Mongolia. Especially in these coronary times, news of this notorious infectious disease, which wreaked havoc in Europe during Middle Ages, is causing unrest. But that is not necessary, this situation is not abnormal and is under control.

The recent concern about bubonic plague originates in Mongolia, where two brothers suffered the disease from eating a forest marmot – a wild rodent. After that, some people in a neighboring Chinese region became infected. Both countries quickly took the necessary measures to prevent further spread. The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely monitoring the situation and assures that the risk of a real outbreak of the disease is minimal.

Treatment with antibiotics

The bubonic plague is one of three main forms of plague, all of which are caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The bacterium is transmitted from animals, especially wild rodents, usually through infected fleas. In the 14th century, the infectious disease, then also called the ‘Black Death’, claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million people around the world.

Infected people often experience fever, headache, chills and painful lymph node swellings in the groin area and armpits after a few days. Fortunately, today’s disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics, but it is still crucial to intervene quickly. If a patient is not treated, the risk of death is between 30 and 60%.

In rare cases, possibly as a result of untreated bubonic plague, the bacterium penetrates into the bloodstream, causing sepsis (blood poisoning). In septic infections, the skin may show black spots, especially on fingers, toes and nose. The third form, pneumonic, is also very rare. In this very deadly variant, the bacterium can be transmitted through droplets released during coughing, sneezing and talking. These two types of plague should also be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible.

No more in Europe

The plague still regularly rears its head, albeit to a very limited extent and no longer in Europe. According to the WHO, 3,248 cases were reported worldwide between 2010 and 2015, of which 584 patients did not survive the condition. In the last decades, most infections have occurred in Asia, Africa and South America. In the United States, mainly in the west of the country, about seven cases are recorded each year. Real outbreaks of the disease are very exceptional, although in recent years there have been in Congo and Madagascar.

“Unlike the situation in the 14th century, we now understand how this disease is transmitted,” stressed expert Shanthi Kappagoda of Stanford Health Care hospital in an interview with the medical website Healthline. “We know how to prevent them, treat patients efficiently with antibiotics and use antibiotics to prevent symptoms of disease in people who may have been exposed to the bacteria.”

Arthur Marquis

With a background in dermatology and over 10 years of experience, Arthur covers a wide range of health-related subjects for the Scientific Origin.