Yes the Bubonic Plague Is Still Around — Why We Don’t Need to Worry

Last year, an outbreak of the bubonic plague in China spread panic that the “Black Death” could make a significant return. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be frightening to imagine another disease spreading across the globe — especially one as infamous as the bubonic plague — but fortunately we’re in the clear. This means there’s pretty much no chance we would ever see a pandemic play out like the one in the 14th century. As pointed out by Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford Health Care, "Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted, and we know how to prevent it.” Patients who are infected are treated with effective antibiotics, which has prevented them from getting sick. The bubonic plague is a serious infection of the lymphatic system, which is caused by bacteria called Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis). Y. pestis spreads via infected fleas or animals, like rodents, squirrels, and rabbits, and can be passed to humans who are bitten or scratched. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, bleeding, open sores, and organ failure. As long as you don’t touch an animal that has the plague bacteria, your chances of getting it are almost non-existent. The U.S. sees about seven cases a year, and they’re typically reported in Southwestern states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, where wild rodents carry the bacteria. Another reason the plague is so rare is that the bacteria doesn’t survive well in sunlight. If the bacteria is released into the air, it can only survive about an hour. Additionally, bubonic and septicemic plagues can’t be passed from person to person. Even better news is that the plague is now curable in most cases. So rest assured, the plague isn’t coming back — at least anytime soon — and even if it does, we now have the knowledge and resources to control it.