Swelling lymph nodes called "buboes" caused by bubonic plague
A New Mexico man caught the first case of bubonic plague for the year, typified by swelling lymph nodes called "buboes." Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The first case of bubonic plague in 2011 has been confirmed; a man in New Mexico has caught one of the deadliest diseases in human history. The disease, caused by a bacteria carried by fleas, has never been totally eradicated, and people in remote areas can catch it. There are about a dozen cases in the United States from bubonic plague every year.

Plague patient admitted to New Mexico hospital

A 58-year-old New Mexico man has earned the dubious distinction of being the first person in the United States this year to have a notorious disease: bubonic plague. The man’s name was not released, according to Time. The man had classic symptoms of plague. He was admitted with a fever, abdominal and groin pain along with painfully swollen lymph nodes. In plague patients, lymph glands swell to the point where they are visible, which in the Middle Ages came to be referred to as a “bubo,” hence the name “bubonic plague.” The word “bubo,” according to Wikipedia, is an ancient Greek word for lymph nodes.

No need to bring out the dead

The Centers for Disease Control states that anywhere from 1 to 40 cases of bubonic plague per year are recorded with an average of 13 per year. Anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of cases are fatal if untreated, and 15 percent of treated cases are fatal. In 2003, the World Health Organization recorded 2,118 cases in nine countries and 182 deaths. Of those cases, 98.7 percent were in Africa, as were 98.9 percent of the deaths. Most cases in the United States occur in New Mexico, according to the Miami New Times. There have been 262 cases of plague in New Mexico since 1949, including six in 2009. However, small plague epidemics did occur in American cities until the middle of the 20th century, according to the Los Angeles Times. Outbreaks were noted in San Francisco from 1900 to 1908, and epidemics occurred in Oakland in 1919 and Los Angeles from 1924 to 1925. The 1924 Los Angeles plague epidemic killed 37 people.

Fleas cause disease

The bubonic plague, or the Black Plague or Black Death, is caused by a bacteria carried by fleas called Yersinis Pestris. Plague-infected fleas spread it by feeding on small rodents such as prairie dogs, rats, chipmunks and ground squirrels. Infected fleas can jump to pets like cats and dogs, then to their owners, or from rodents to people. The disease is caused when people are bitten by fleas carrying the bacteria. People in the Southwest are at the most risk. New Mexico is home to half of all cases, but other cases have occurred in Arizona, California, Nevada and Oregon. Bubonic plague is non-infectious in people unless the disease spreads to the lungs and becomes pneumonic plague. Antibiotics are effective if administered within 24 hours of symptoms emerging.


Time: http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/10/first-case-of-bubonic-plague-in-2011-appears-in-new-mexico/

Miami New Times: http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/shortorder/2011/05/what_to_eat_if_you_catch_the_b.php

Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/plague/index.htm

World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs267/en/

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubonic_plague

Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2006/mar/05/local/me-then5

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