Plague has not gone away

Plague or the Black death is rare in the world, but has not gone away. Plague epidemics have occurred in Africa, Asia, and South America but most human cases since the 1990s have occurred in Africa. Plague was first introduced into the United States in 1900, by rat–infested steamships that had sailed from affected areas, mostly from Asia. Recently health officials in Salt Lake City confirmed a Utah resident died from plague.  Since April 1st 2015, a total of 12 cases of human plague have been reported in residents of seven states of the USA: Arizona (two). California (one), Colorado (four), New Mexico (two), Oregon (one) and Utah (one).

Species such as prairie dogs, black footed-ferrets, squirrels, and rabbits are especially susceptible and usually die from it. According to the Utah Department of Health, the plague is naturally occurring within Utah and typically seen in prairie dogs each year.

The two cases in Georgia and the California resident have been linked to exposures at or near Yosemite National Park. Officials said they might have contracted the disease from a flea or contact with a dead animal. Human plague occurs in areas where the bacteria are present in wild rodent populations.

The risks are generally highest in rural and semi-rural areas, including campsites and homes that provide food and shelter for various ground squirrels, chipmunks and wood rats, or other areas where you may encounter rodents. Avoid contact with rodents when travelling.

Plague is a very serious illness but it is treatable with commonly available antibiotics.

There have been seven deaths in Madagascar with links to suspected pneumonic plague  in two days in the city of Moramanga, which is situated on a plateau between the central highlands and the east coast of Madagascar, according to a L’Express report.

Laboratory testing and patient’s symptoms of fever, headache, tinted blood spitting, chest pain, trouble breathing and sudden death tentatively indicate the outbreak is due to pulmonary plague.

It is important to get the most up to date advice before you travel- ideally you should seek advice 6 weeks before departure.

Dr. M. Prabhu  ITVC,  Sydney

Further reading about plague in the USA

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