Relax, The Black Death Isn’t Returning


Since the mid–20th century, plague in the United States has typically occurred in the rural West. The case shown in Illinois was lab-associated. (Map courtesy of the CDC)

You’ve probably seen the screaming headlines by now, joining the ranks of “murder hornets” and “new pig flu” among the proverbial second shoes that will drop this year. An outbreak of the bubonic plague was reported in Northern China, leading to a strong government response.

Here are a list of things that you should worry about more than the plague:

  • COVID-19
  • Donald Trump
  • The security of our elections
  • The Flu
  • NeoNazis
  • Women named Karen who won’t wear masks at Target
  • Brian-Eating Amoebas in Florida
  • Pretty much anyone in the State of Florida

This isn’t 1347, and the plague isn’t going to ravage us like it did Europe in that era. The bubonic plague is a bacterial infection, not viral, and is treatable with antibiotics and though can still cause serious illness, does occur naturally already, even in the United States and cases are rare. In 2015, more than a dozen cases of the plague were reported in the US, almost entirely in the Southwest. In 2018, plague was reported in Idaho. No one has died of the plague in the United States in five years.

It can be transferred from person to person via respiratory droplets, but that is not common. It is usually transmitted through flea bites – fleas that bite a rodent with the plague bacteria, carry it and infect a human when they bite the human.

According to the Center for Disease Control:

Plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Once a patient is diagnosed with suspected plague they should be hospitalized and, in the case of pneumonic plague, medically isolated. Laboratory tests should be done, including blood cultures for plague bacteria and microscopic examination of lymph node, blood, and sputum samples. Antibiotic treatment should begin as soon as possible after laboratory specimens are taken. To prevent a high risk of death in patients with pneumonic plague, antibiotics should be given as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours of the first symptoms.

So don’t get too crazy with “EEK! THE PLAGUE!” headlines. COVID-19 is enough to worry about already.

Besides, social media will find another thing to freak out about in due time.


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