The Bubonic Plague Is Back But There’s No Need To Stress Out

It's a scary word, but rest assured, the pandemic clickbait is just that...

Woman looking out window

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

A case of the bubonic plague in Inner Mongolia, China has been confirmed by authorities, with the government now taking up precautions to prevent further cases. While the news has caused some panic online, experts are reminding people the plague is now very well-researched with effective treatment options in the form of antibiotics.

The first case was reported on Saturday at a hospital in Urad Middle Banner, in Bayannur city, the man is now in quarantine and in stable condition although it’s not known how he contracted the disease. China’s Global Times confirming a second suspected case this morning, saying on Twitter that it involves a 15-year-old who had been in contact with a marmot – a type of squirrel – that had been hunted by a dog.

It is forbidden to hunt or eat animals that could carry the plague, with a level three alert subsequently sent out by Chinese authorities calling on the public to report any suspected cases – with the alert in place until the end of the year.

The bubonic plague is caused by a bacterial infection and is mainly spread by infected fleas from small animals. It was once the most feared disease in the world, killing around 50 million people across Africa, Asia and Europe in the 14th Century. Now, it is easily treated with antibiotics.

Of course, even hearing the words ‘bubonic plague’ alone has raised alarm online. ‘First Covid-19, then an Ebola scare and now a case of the bubonic plague/Black Death? Throw the whole year away please,’ one social media user tweeted to thousands of likes. ‘I suppose 2020 wouldn't really be complete without the re-emergence of the bubonic plague. It's just that kind of year,’ another added.

In actual fact, there have been multiple resurfaces of the bubonic plague in recent history. In 2017, there were more than 300 cases in Madagascar with a study in medical journal The Lancet confirming less than 30 people died as a result. And in May last year, two people died in Mongolia from the plague after eating raw meat from a marmot.

We know how to prevent it.

Thanks to scientific research and advances in medicine, outbreaks like this are nowhere near as much cause for concern as one might think when seeing the words printed large in a headline.

‘Unlike in the 14th Century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted,’ Dr Shanti Kappagoda, an infectious diseases doctor at Stanford Health Care, told news site Healthline. ‘We know how to prevent it. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics.’

So, while there seems to be a surge in pandemic-clickbait from those capitalising on the fears created by Covid-19, this is not one you need to freak out about as much as you may be right now.

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