What Exactly Is Bubonic Plague and How Is It Transmitted?

A herder in China has been diagnosed with the disease.

(SPOT.ph) Bubonic plague has been diagnosed in a herder in China—specifically, Inner Mongolia, the BBC has reported. The patient is reportedly in stable condition and receiving treatment. Chinese officials have stepped up precautions.

While the disease is now treatable, the bubonic plague was one of the most feared epidemics during the Middle Ages. As reported in a previous SPOT.ph article: Otherwise known as the Black Death, this plague swept through Europe and Asia in the 14th century—effectively decreasing the European continent’s entire population by a third. The gruesome sickness caused huge boils oozing blood and pus on people’s skin. Stories of how fast people died—and most importantly the images preserved from this time—can still send chills down your spine today.

What causes it and what are the symptoms?

French biologist Alexandre Yersin was responsible for discovering the plague-causing germ Yersina pestis at the end of the 19th century. This bacillus is now known to have been airborne and transmitted as well through fleas and rats.

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Although it was eventually controlled—partially because of quarantines enforced in trading posts of medieval Europe—several iterations of the plague would break out and kill relatively large numbers throughout the next few centuries. Several thousand cases are still reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) annually, some of them in the United States.

Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle ache, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. These usually appear within two to six days after infection.

Bubonic plague is curable with antibiotics as long as it is diagnosed early. "Bubonic plague is caused by a bacterium and so, unlike covid-19, is readily treated with antibiotics," Dr. Matthew Dryden, consultant microbiologist at the U.K.'s University of Southampton, told the BBC.

Main image from Wikimedia Commons.

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