Plague, one of the deadliest bacterial infections in human history, caused an estimated 50 million deaths in Europe during the Middle Ages. Symptoms, which usually appear within one to seven days after infection, include painful, swollen lymph nodes, called bubos, as well as fever, chills and coughing.
“After the quarantine [was announced] not many people, even locals, were in the streets for fear of catching the disease,” Sebastian Pique, a US Peace Corps volunteer living in the region, told AFP.
The bacteria persists because low levels circulate among populations of certain rodents, the CDC says. These infected animals and their fleas serve as long-term reservoirs for the bacteria.
Where can you get plague?
Plague occurs naturally in the western United States, particularly Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico, where an average of seven human plague cases are reported each year to the CDC.
Plague is found on all continents, except Oceania, according to World Health Organization. Though epidemics have occurred in Africa, Asia, and South America, most human cases since the 1990s have occurred in Africa. Today, the three most endemic countries are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Peru.
In Madagascar, bubonic plague cases are reported nearly every year during the epidemic season, between September and April.
Is there a cure? How is plague treated?
The same treatment is used for the two most common types of plague. Bubonic plague has a case-fatality ratio of 30% to 60%, while pneumonic plague, when left untreated, is always fatal, according to WHO.
Over 80% of US cases have been the bubonic form, which is the most common form of infection. Untreated bubonic plague can turn into the more serious pneumonic plague, which causes rapidly developing pneumonia, after bacteria spread to the lungs.
Is there a vaccine for plague?
How do you protect yourself and your family?
Key steps for prevention of plague include eliminating nesting places for rodents around your home, sheds, garages and recreation areas by removing brush, rock piles, trash and excess firewood. Report sick or dead animals to law enforcement or your local health officials, do not pick up or touch them yourself. If you absolutely must handle a sick or dead animal, wear gloves.
Use insect repellent that contains DEET to prevent flea bites and treat dogs and cats for fleas regularly. Do not sleep with your pets as this increases your risk of getting plague. Finally, your pets should not hunt or roam rodent habitats, such as prairie dog colonies.