Is Plague Coming? Relax, It’s Already Here.

I just saw the news this morning. Plague in Madagascar! Not Ebola plague, plague. The original plague, bubonic plague. Remember your history of the middle ages? Authors secreted away from the death so they can write trashy classics like the Decameron? Monty Python’s “bring out your dead” skit? One third of Europe dead? That plague?

Not only that, they’ve got two cases of pneumonic plague. That’s the one where you can get it from another person, not just from fleas. If you know your history, that’s the really bad form. It swept through the countrysides as people fled away from infected villages.

So, when will plague come to the United States? What quarantines will be put in place? How will we protect ourselves? Relax, it’s already here. “The plague is something that is always around. In some areas of the country, they have very regular outbreaks in the rodent community.” That’s Karen Yeargin, CDC coordinator for Cook county in Oregon, where a man contracted plague from a dead rat.

Back in the middle ages, they didn’t know that the rats carry plague, and the fleas bite the rats. If the rats all die off, the fleas find another host, often humans. They bite people, and people get the plague.

But we don’t die anymore, not often anyway. In a study of sixty-two dogs who had plague in New Mexico from 2003-11, 97% survived after taking antibiotics. Yersinia pestis is susceptible to multiple antibiotics, and they’re working on a vaccine. We all mourn with the families in Madagascar and maybe this new outbreak will focus enough attention on plague that they’ll get sufficient funding.


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