In the 14th century, the bubonic plague that had quietly lived in China’s Gobi Desert lifted from the ground and attacked Europe. Carried by fleas who found refuge on rat fur, the bacteria wreaked havoc on the filthy cities of the Middle Ages. By the end of the 16th century, more than a third of Europe was claimed by the plague now known as the Black Death.

In the centuries that followed, hygiene and sanitation improved, and the plague has mostly become a disease of history. But it has yet to be fully eradicated.

On July 16, a 38-year-old Chinese herdsman died from the bubonic plague. He had been exposed to a dead marmot, a rodent-like creature related to the squirrel, that was carrying the dangerous bacteria. The man was admitted to the hospital with a high fever and was coughing blood. Immediately, the hospital quarantined him and Chinese health officials flooded into the city of Yumen.

Of the city’s approximate 100,000 residents, 151 have been placed into quarantine, as they were believed to have been near the infected man after his exposure to bacteria. Furthermore, parts of the city — which allocated 1 million yuan in the way of emergency vaccinations — have been sealed off.

Chinese Central Television (CCTV) reports that Yumen has enough food supplies to last them a month if need be. The same report also indicates that all residents in quarantine look to be uninfected.

The plague, when it infects a person’s lungs, can be fatal if left untreated for even 24 hours, a misfortune that struck the Yumen community with the herdsman’s death.

According to the World Health Organization, between 1,000 and 3,000 people die from the bubonic plague every year. But most victims of this ruthless disease hail from developing countries that still struggle with sanitation.

Between 2000 and 2009, close to 20,000 people were infected by the plague. Of these cases, 10,581 cases were reported in Congo, 7,182 in Madagascar and 1,309 in Zambia.

Meanwhile, only 56 people from the U.S. have been affected by the disease, of whom seven died.

But plague cases remain especially rare in China. There was only a single diagnosed case in the province of Sichuan in 2012 and 12 cases — including three deaths — in 2009 in the remote and rural areas of China’s western provinces.

– Shehrose Mian

Sources: LiveScience 1, LiveScience 2, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Enca, Austrian Times, Washington Post
Photo: Flickr

It is amazing that in the year 2013, the Bubonic Plague still exists on this planet. The disease that is known as the Black Death that caused at least 25 million deaths in the 14th century has this week been linked the death of at least 20 people in Madagascar, and may still infect more in the weeks to come.

This announcement is one of the worst outbreaks of the disease in years, and there is concern that it could spread to more towns and cities in the region. The Bubonic Plague is a disease that is transmitted through animals, usually through rats that hold infected flees which then infect humans, which has a high mortality rate if not immediately treated. This disease has mainly been eradicated from most areas of the world, but has been known to appear in developing nations such as Madagascar, where there are low hygiene levels, high levels of population and low resources to prevent the disease.

There was warning from the International Committee of the Red Cross in October that the nation of the East Coast of Mainland Africa was at high risk of an epidemic, but the warnings went mostly unheeded by the locals in the region. It is not that the locals were negligent in preventing the spread of this disease, but there are higher systemic problems that are harder to overcome for the locals.

Madagascar harbored this plague for many reasons. Locals in the region have low literacy rates, which makes it hard to share live saving information that prevents exposure to diseases. The country of Madagascar does not support a strong democratic government with a low corruption rate. When corruption is prevalent through all levels of government, funds that can be applied towards improving the nation often end up in the pockets of the few that are in power, adding to the national poverty.

The nation is one that is often prone to civil unrest, which many violent outbreaks has increase the use of military force on the people. The frequency of civil unrest has suppressed desire for foreign tourism which has decreased revenue for the national economy.

Madagascar is just an example of how poverty in a region can encourage the spread of life threatening diseases. Nations that have low standards of living, high levels of populations, weak central governments and low levels of hygiene are danger zones for disease. It is discouraging for a disease that has largely been eradicated from the face of the world to still exist in this poor region of the world.

Travis Whinery

Sources: Time, Daily Mail, BBC, Reuters UK
Photo: Wikimedia