World News

China: Two People Diagnosed with the Plague

Two people have been diagnosed with the plague on November 13th, 2019, in Beijing, China.

Yersinia pestis bacteria under a microscope. Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

The plague is infamous for the pandemic that killed around two-thirds of the European population during the Middle Ages. It is a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted to humans through rodent fleas carrying the bacterium or by handling animals already infected with the disease.

There are three ways in which this virus can develop in a person. The first is as a blood infection, which is called the septicemic plague. The second is through a form that affects the lymph nodes, which is the bubonic plague. This form is the most common and most known, as it was responsible for the Black Death in Europe. Lastly, it can be developed as a lung infection, named the pneumonic plague, which was the form the two people were diagnosed with. The latter is highly contagious and can be easily transmitted through coughing, and is considered fatal if not treated soon enough with antibiotics.

Such characteristics of this form of infection have prompted fear of an outbreak from the public since it is not the first time China has been dealing with these cases. For instance, in 2014, the city of Yumen, China was sealed off and 151 people were put in quarantine after a man died from the bubonic plague.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely monitoring the situation with the Chinese Health Commission by increasing surveillance and screening close contacts of the diagnosed.

Meanwhile, the plague is treatable with antibiotics in its early stages, but it still affects rural areas in countries. The bubonic plague affects the rural regions in the U.S., such as northern Arizona, southern Colorado, and southern Oregon; it also affects rural areas in continents such as South America, Africa, and Asia. From 2010-2015, WHO recorded 3,248 cases of the plague and 584 deaths resulted from it.

There are many methods for one to prevent the plague:

  1. Eliminate rodent habitats around your home: remove rock piles, junk, possible rodent food supplies (such as pet and wild animal food).
  2. Wear gloves when handling possibly infected animals to prevent direct skin contact with the plague bacteria.
  3. Use repellent when doing outdoor activities such as hiking and camping to prevent rodent fleas.
  4. Keep fleas off your pets by applying flea control products. If your pet appears to be sick, immediately seek help from a veterinarian.

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