The discovery of a squirrel and a couple of rodents infected with bubonic plague over the last few months fears of an outbreak of the ‘Black Death’ that killed many millions of people in Europe during the 14th century have surfaced.
Bubonic plague was introduced to the Unites States in 1900 by the arrival of rat infested steamships from the wider world. The US escaped the pandemic due only to its vastness at that time. Communities were spread far apart and there was plenty of wild food for the rats that meant they didn’t have to come into contact with humans all that often.
The CDC figures state that there have been 999 cases of bubonic plague in the United States between 1900 and 2010. The most recent epidemic having occurred in 1924-1925. There is an average of 7 cases a year throughout the US almost all of them to the west of the midwestern states.
Plague is spread by the fleas of the black rat, and its medical name is Yersinia Pestis. It has three forms,bubonic which is marked by black pus filled swellings called buboes which appear predominantly in the armpit and groin, septicemic marked by blackening and death of the skin and other organs, and pneumonic which affects the lungs effectively drowning a person in their own secretions. Both can be and often are fatal but at this point in time can be treated with antibiotics if caught early enough.
An infected person spreads pneumonic plague through coughing and sneezing, their respiratory secretions are highly infective. Once in a household the plague spreads easily and even more easily in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
As the disease lurks in the fleas of rats its almost impossible to eradicate and in any situation where the rat population increases so the infected flea population will also increase which in turn increases the chances of contracting the plague.
As with most infectious diseases the chance of spread is far greater in any kind of collapse situation. Diseases are opportunistic, and overcrowding, malnutrition and unsanitary conditions all make it easier for them to gain a foothold.
Without rodent control measures that are run by many cities, particularly those in the western states of the country the rat population will explode. Rats are brazen creatures and will seek out food just as easily inside the home as in the wild. An increase in the rat population will see them completing for food resources, and this is enough to drive them deeper into urban areas invading homes and other areas where their contact with humans will increase.
After a collapse of any type everything possible should be done to keep rats away from people. The plague is only one of a number of diseases that they are able to pass onto humans.
Signs and symptoms
- Buboes (tender, enlarged lymph nodes found under the armpits, in the neck, or in the groin, ranging in size from 1 to 10 cm., in 70 percent of people)
- Abdominal (stomach) pain
- Diarrhea, which may be bloody
- Decreased appetite
- Tiny broken blood vessels (called petechiae).
Pneumonic plague is the most serious of all with death typically occurring in two to six days. The mortality rate of pneumonic plague is 75% even with appropriate medical treatment.
- Increased breathing.
As pneumonic plague worsens, symptoms can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing up blood
- Respiratory failure
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
Streptomycin is the treatment of choice but as I said even with medical intervention pneumonic plague is fatal in 75% of cases. Gentamicin has shown effective in bubonic and septicemic plague but not in pneumonic plague.
With increasing numbers of people looking for meat that they wouldn’t have previously considered eating, there will be much more interaction between people and wild animals during and after a collapse, inevitably this will lead to more cases of plague. To minimize the chances of catching disease from wild meat take precautions.
- Cover cuts and grazes before handling the animal.
- Wear gloves, preferably leather work gloves.
- Butcher and clean the meat away from the home/camp site.
- Wash your hands throughly after handling the meat.
- Cook throughly. You may like your steak medium rare but that is too risky with meat from unknown sources.
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Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic.
Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.