A city in northern China on Sunday sounded an alert after a suspected case of bubonic plague was reported. The bubonic plague, known as the “Black Death” in the Middle Ages, is a highly infectious and often fatal disease that is spread mostly by rodents, reported Deccan Herald.
What is Bubonic plague?
It is a bacterial disease that is spread by fleas living on wild rodents such as marmots. It can kill an adult in less than 24 hours if not treated in time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The plague affects less than 5,000 people a year worldwide now and is extremely fatal if not treated with antibiotics. The most common form of plague results in swollen and tender lymph nodes — called buboes — in the groin, armpits or neck, according to the Mayo Clinic website. The rarest and deadliest form of plague affects the lungs, and it can be spread from person to person.
Other bubonic plague signs and symptoms may include a sudden onset of fever and chills, headache, fatigue and muscle aches
The disease is transmitted between animals via their fleas and, as it is a zoonotic bacterium, it can also transmit from animals to humans.
According to a report in the NYT, the bubonic plague killed a third to half of Europe’s population in the Middle Ages.
During the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages, some European doctors wore beak-like masks to protect against "miasma", imagined as air pollution linked to rotting matter and bad smells.
"It was thought that dangerous atoms would not adhere to leather trousers and gowns made of waxed fabric," said Yale historian Frank Snowden, in his book "Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present".
"A wide-brimmed hat could defend the head, and a mask with a protruding beak extending from the nose could carry aromatic herbs that would protect the wearer from the fatal miasmatic smells."
There were waves of anti-Semitic violence, prostitutes were rounded up, witchhunts launched, foreigners cast out. Miasma theories continued to dominate until the 1800s.
The news of bubonic plague came after Chinese researchers issued an early warning over another potential pandemic caused by an influenza virus in pigs.
Scientists from China Agricultural University, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and other institutes detected a pig influenza virus bearing genotype 4 (G4), which is contagious among pigs and has the possibility of jumping to humans, as the G4 virus is able to bind with human cells, state-run Global Times reported last week.
The researchers are concerned that it could mutate further so that it can spread easily from person to person, and trigger a global outbreak, BBC reported.
"Controlling the prevailing G4 EA H1N1 viruses in pigs and close monitoring in human populations, especially workers in the swine industry, should be urgently implemented," Chinese researchers warned in the paper.