Bubonic Plague: Signs, Symptoms, and Recent Case in the US

A rare disease from the past has surfaced in the United States: the bubonic plague. Once responsible for 50 million deaths in the 14th century, this "Black Death" devastated Europe, Africa, and Asia, wiping out nearly half of Europe’s population in weeks.

The last major outbreak in London was the Great Plague of 1665, killing about a fifth of the city's residents. The 19th-century pandemic in China and India killed over 12 million people. 

Today, the plague is rare in the US and Europe but still exists in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Peru.

Recently, a case was diagnosed in an unnamed person from Colorado. The disease typically spreads through infected animals and flea bites.

Authorities speculate squirrels might be the source, as previous bacteria samples were found in these animals. Cases have also been reported in rural parts of Northern Arizona, Southern Colorado, and Southern Oregon.

Earlier this year, an Oregon cat owner contracted the plague from her infected pet but recovered with antibiotics. However, a man in Lincoln County, New Mexico, died from the infection a month later. 

The plague, transmitted from animals to humans by fleas, has a 30-60% fatality rate if untreated. 

However, early antibiotic treatment is effective. Most cases occur in the summer as more people spend time outdoors. Prairie dogs, due to their social nature, are a significant vector.

The "animal reservoir" of the plague, particularly rodents, makes it difficult to eradicate. Daniel Epstein of the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that without exterminating rodents, the plague will persist.

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