The bubonic plague, which is caused by a bacterial infection, was chillingly known as “Black Death” when it wiped out some 50 million people across Africa, Asia and Europe in the Middle Ages.
Its dark moniker refers to the gangrenous blackening and death of body parts, including the fingers and toes, that can happen as the disease ravages the body, according to the BBC.
How is bubonic plague treated?
Unlike the 14th century, however, patients these days can be treated effectively with modern antibiotics, which can prevent complications and death.
What causes the bubonic plague?
The bubonic plague is the most common type of the disease, which is caused by bacteria called Yersinia pestis that live in some animals — mostly rodents — and their fleas.
Its name comes from the symptoms it causes: painful, swollen lymph nodes — or “buboes” — in the groin or armpit, according to the news outlet, which said there were 3,248 cases reported across the world, including 584 deaths, from 2010 to 2015.
How common is it?
Between 1,000 to 2,000 people get the plague each year, according to the World Health Organization, but that estimate is likely too low since it doesn’t account for unreported cases, CNN reported.
In the US, there have been as many as a few dozen cases every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, two people in Colorado died from the plague, according to the network.
From 2009 to 2018, China reported 26 cases and 11 deaths, Reuters reported.
What are the symptoms?
A person usually becomes sick between two and six days after being infected and may experience a variety of symptoms in addition to enlarged lymph nodes including fever, chills, headaches, muscle pain and fatigue.
The disease also can affect the lungs, causing a cough and chest pain, as well as difficulty breathing.
The bacteria also can infiltrate the bloodstream and cause sepsis, a life-threatening complication of an infection, which can lead to tissue damage and organ failure.
People can become infected from the bites of fleas, coming into contact with infected animals, and inhaling aerosolized droplets spread by people and animals.
The infection also could penetrate the body through a cut in the skin if the person came in close touch with the blood of an infected animal.
Dr. Matthew Dryden, a microbiologist at the University of Southampton in the UK, told the BBC it was good that Chinese authorities identified the most recent case in Inner Mongolia at an early stage because it can be isolated.
“Bubonic plague is caused by a bacterium and so, unlike COVID-19, is readily treated with antibiotics. So although this might appear alarming, being another major infectious disease emerging from the East, it appears to be a single suspected case which can be readily treated,” he said.