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The ‘Black Death” brings to mind Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” in which the fictional Prince Prospero and his chosen friends had sequestered themselves in his castle and were about to enjoy a masked ball. Outside death swarmed through the kingdom. A masked man enters the gala event and that night one by one everyone succumbs to the Red Death. In reality, it was October 1347 when a dozen ships docked at a Sicilian port. The sailors were either dead or on their deathbed, taken with fever and sickness including oozing black boils. They had brought Black Death – the plague – to Europe. Over the next five years the Black Death would claim over 20 million souls.
Archaeologists have unearthed a 'Black Death' grave in London, containing more than a dozen skeletons of people suspected to have died from the plague. The victims are thought to have died during the 14th century and archaeologists anticipate finding many more as they excavate the site. The Plague is by definition a re-emerging infectious disease which affects the lungs and is highly contagious, leading to mass outbreaks across populations.
A study, "Small oversights that led to the Great Plague of Marseille (1720 - 1723): Lessons from the past" by Christian A. Devaux, was published in Infection, Genetics and Evolution. It analyzed the Great Plague of Marseille, which caused 100,000 deaths between 1720 and 1723. The researchers aimed to highlight issues we are facing with infectious diseases today, to identify the best ways to respond to epidemics and whether we are still at risk of the plague re-emerging again.
Results of Devaux’s study show that we are still at risk of plague today. Transport trade and novel threats in developing countries where multi-drug resistant pathogens are currently emerging and spreading rapidly are the main causes he states. This genetic change has also contributed to a development in the way the bacteria infect new hosts meaning they can now live in mammalian blood.
In 2004, the Texas Health Department identified plague outbreaks in both wood rats near Midland, on the boundary between Midland County and Glasscock Counties, and in prairie dogs in northern Dallam County, according to a 16 May 2004 article in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. The wood rats and prairie dogs carry fleas which in turn carry the plague.
The study also highlighted the need for effective management of epidemics in future. Fear of in infection can have a negative impact on a population's economic situation due to a significant loss of tourism, and widespread panic. History has shown us that providing the necessary information about diseases and improving the management of epidemics are vital steps for avoiding panic and containing diseases.
Information is valuable to scientists, emergency personnel and to preppers.
The Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) includes information on the plague on their site as well. According to the CDC, the plague can be treated with antibiotics if the patient is seen as soon as possible.
The US first saw the plague in 1900 as infected rats and rodents carried the plague from Asian ships. Today the western US is considered a “plague-epidemic area.” Since then most of the approximately 1000 cases have been of the bubonic form. One can get the plague at any time of the year, however the CDC points out that the largest number of outbreaks are in the warmer months. This is because fleas and rodents are more active in warmer climates and months.
According to the New Mexico State Health Department, the symptoms of the plague are:
- sudden high fever
- muscle aches
- extreme weakness
In the majority of cases, approximately 75%, a lymph gland in the groin area, under the arms, or in the neck will become extremely tender, swollen and painful. If you have any of these symptoms, see your physician and begin antibiotics.
“Black Death,” History. http://www.history.com/topics/black-death
Plague fact Sheet. New Mexico Department of Health. April 2007. Acquired 16 March 2013. http://www.health.state.nm.us/erd/HealthData/Plague/PlagueFactSheet.pdf
“Plague Information” CDC. Last updated 18 June 2012. Last acquired 16 March 2013. http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/plague/
“Prairie Dog plague threat to West Texas over summer” Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Published 16 May 2004. Last acquired 16 March 2013. http://lubbockonline.com/stories/051604/loc_051604087.shtml
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