A child in the US has a confirmed case of the Bubonic Plague
Several centuries ago, the population of Europe was decimated when a disease known as "The Great Plague" or "The Black Death" swept across the continent, killing tens of millions and leaving a tragic mark on the pages of history. Since then, few other pandemics have come even close to causing as much destruction, and - luckily for us - the illness has never had a global resurgence.
However, even today, individual cases of bubonic plague still arise, often in less economically developed countries with poorer access to healthcare and disease control. Last week, though, it was reported that one child in Idaho, USA, had contracted the deadly disease.
Symptoms of the illness include a sudden fever, severe chills, a headache, and general overall weakness. Famously, the disease also commonly causes the development of buboes: dark, painful lumps that sprout in the lymph nodes around the groin, armpit and neck.
It is not clear what sort of physical state the afflicted boy is in, but he is said to be recovering after receiving antibiotic treatment.
According to officials, this case is the second human diagnosis in the state in almost three decades, but medical professionals are not overly concerned about another epidemic beginning, as person-to-person transmission is actually very rare.
"Plague is spread to humans through a bite from an infected flea. People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife," explained Sarah Correll, D.V.M., Central District Health Department epidemiologist. In order for others in the same area of Elmore County, Idaho, to avoid contracting the illness, Correll advises: "Wear insect repellent, long pants and socks when visiting plague-affected areas."
It has not yet been confirmed how exactly the child contracted the disease, but apparently, he had recently visited Oregon, and a total of eight human cases of bubonic plague have been confirmed there since 1990. However, it has also been confirmed that squirrels in the area where the boy lives had previously tested positive for the plague in 2015 and 2016 - albeit no cases of the infection were confirmed last year.
The Central District Health Department has offered the following advice to Idaho residents:
"Don’t touch or handle wild rodents or their carcasses.
"Keep your pets from roaming and hunting rodents. This is important – when an animal
dies from the plague, fleas leave the body and look for another host, which could be your pet, especially if it rolls in a carcass or eats it.
"Talk to your veterinarian about flea control for your pets before venturing out to ground squirrel areas, and follow the directions on the label. Not all flea products are safe for dogs and cats.
"If you find a group of dead ground squirrels, you can report it to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game on its plague website.
"Don’t feed rodents in campgrounds, picnic areas, or near your home.
"Clean up areas near your home where rodents could live.
"Store hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible away from your home.
"Don’t leave pet food and water where rodents can get to them."
Fortunately, thanks to medical advancements and access to treatment in the USA, the boy is expected to survive the ordeal. Others, however, have not been so lucky in recent history. Just last year, for example, 200 people in Madagascar succumbed to the illness.
Other residents of Idaho should be assured they have nothing to worry about - but symptoms of the illness should always be seen to as soon as possible if there is any suspicion that it could be a case of the plague.