Details on the Most Common Forms of Plague: Bubonic, Septicemia and Pneumonia

Published: 2021-09-28 04:40:13
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The Plague is a word that horrified much of the population over the centuries around the globe. It is no less fearful a word today. This term describes several diseases; the three most common forms are known as the Bubonic Plague, Septicemia, and Pneumonic. Plague pneumonia, or pneumonic plague, is caused by the same bacteria as bubonic plague but is acquired by inhaling infected droplets from the lungs of someone whose plague infection has spread to the respiratory system. This is the most contagious form of the disease and the form that progresses most rapidly, with death usually occurring in less than three days in virtually all untreated cases. The bubonic plague is by far the most familiar form of the diseases. The initial appearance of the bubonic plague resulted in major changes to European society. People called it “The Black Death” because of the red-black spots it produced on the skin. A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and medieval medicine had nothing to combat it.
The Bubonic plague is an acute infection in humans and various species of rodents, caused by Yersinia pestis a bacterium transmitted by fleas that have fed on the blood of infected rodents, usually rats. The ingested plague bacteria multiply in the flea’s upper digestive tract and eventually obstruct it. When the flea feeds again on a human or another rodent, the obstruction causes the freshly ingested blood to be regurgitated back into the bite, along with plague bacteria. The circulatory system of the bitten individual then carries the bacteria throughout the body.The first signs of illness in humans appear suddenly, within about a week. In a few hours the body temperature rises to about 40 degrees C (104 degrees F), and the victim becomes gravely ill, experiencing vomiting, muscular pain, mental disorganization, and delirium. The bacteria invades the lymph nodes in an area close to the bite causing visible swelling that will also be painful. The lymph nodes throughout the body, especially those in the groin and the thighs, become enlarged. The inflamed lymph nodes, called buboes (from which the disease gets its name), become filled with pus, and the disease spreads through the body by way of the infected bloodstream and the lymphatic system. All these symptoms overwhelm the body’s defenses and it cannot manage to put its defense mechanisms in action. In 60-90 percent of untreated cases, death occurs within a few days. Through time and the advancement of medical science treatments have become more and more sophisticated that today early detection can be treated with antibiotics and prevention vaccines are available. Russian scientist Waldemar Haffkine developed the first vaccine in 1895. There is a vaccine available to immunize but there is some doubt to its true preventative value.
This disease has had a long history. Earliest accounts date back to the dates of 1000 BC It reappeared again in the 4th Century Constantinople (present day Turkey). Frequent outbreaks around the Mediterranean area are documented. The “Black Death” made its most dramatic appearance in the 1300’s. In the early 1330s an outbreak of deadly bubonic plague occurred in China. Once people are infected, they infect others very rapidly.
Since China was one of the busiest of the world’s trading nations, it was only a matter of time before the outbreak of plague in China spread to western Asia and Europe. In October of 1347, several Italian merchant ships returned from a trip to the Black Sea, one of the key links in trade with China. When the ships docked in Sicily, many of those on board were already dying of plague. Within days the disease spread to the city and the surrounding countryside. The disease is believed to have journeyed from central Asia, to Mediterranean and on throughout the rest of Europe. As trade increased so did the spread of the illness. This trail led to the reduction of European population by half. A third outbreak appeared in China in the 1800’s, which reduced the region population by 20 million. Today, outbreaks of the plague have occurred in areas of Asia, Africa and South America with isolated cases occurring annually in the United States. Small epidemics of bubonic plague continue to occur in widespread regions of the world, including the United States. The epidemics fail to spread beyond local outbreaks, however, which may suggest that less virulent strains of the plague bacterium have developed over the years and conferred a relative immunity to many people. That the plague does reappear indicates its existence as a chronic disease among wild rodents.
In winter the disease seemed to disappear, but only because the fleas (which were now helping to carry it from person to person) are dormant then. Each spring, the plague attacked again, killing new victims. After five years 25 million people were dead (one-third of Europe’s population). No doubt with the loss of population this disease had a major impact on the society even in the early days. It had a major effect on the social structure during medieval times. The numbers in the working class led to the final downfall of the feudal system. With reduced workers, abandoned farms, commodities would be in shorter supply. Medieval society never recovered from the results of the plague. So many people had died that there were serious labor shortages all over Europe. This led workers to demand higher wages, but landlords refused those demands. By the end of the1300s peasant revolts broke out in England, France, Belgium and Italy. Commerce activities came to a halt. People not affected, gathered in walled cities to protect themselves. Education sources were depleted and replaced with individuals with little or no training causing increased use of the local dialects in language.
The most effective way to prevent plague is to reduce the rodent and flea populations by the use of proper sanitation and rodenticides and insecticides. The plague organism is vulnerable to the antibiotic streptomycin, chloramphenicol, and tetracycline, if treatment is started within about 15 hours of the first appearance of symptoms.

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