All throughout the fossil record, there’s evidence that certain types of species can be completely killed off and which will re-evolve and return again and again. One outstanding example of this is the saber-toothed tiger. This creature would not only have been terrifying to behold, but it has been found that its long teeth were used more as a trap for human heads than as piercing implements.
What’s even more terrifying, inside the sabercat’s mouth was a bony prong which the animal would use to pierce the craniums of its victims. Apparently, the sabertooth is a recurring specialization in man-eating.
As stated, the sabercat is just an example of recurring species types. The same is true in the world of microbes and viruses. While there are no fossil records for pathogens, we can see some recurring patterns in history where people recorded the effects of serious diseases. Among these, the plague stands out the most. It is the saber-toothed tiger of the microscopic world.
Now epidemiologists are concerned that the plague is getting ready to make another comeback. Considering our heavy reliance on vaccines and the fact that antibiotics are losing their strength- it looks like we could be in for a coming epidemic of the plague.
According to the World Health Organization, over 1,300 cases have been diagnosed on the continent of Africa recently. Two-thirds of these confirmed cases are believed to be of the pneumatic variety- which is the fastest to spread and the deadliest.
In the 1300s, the Black Death, AKA the bubonic plague, wiped out 50 million people in Europe- and that is the slower, less deadly version. The more aggressive pneumatic variety of the plague spreads via airborne particles and can kill a person in less than 72 hours.
It is spread by coughing and sneezing, which means it is highly contagious. In fact, the convention of saying “bless you” to someone after they sneeze arose from the tendency of sneezing to serve an early indicator of infection.
Fortunately today, the pneumatic plague can be treated using common antibiotics. But saying “bless you” doesn’t hurt.
Madagascar was hit the hardest in the recent breakout of the disease and the virus spread to a handful of other countries such as Mozambique, Mauritius, South Africa, and Tanzania. These areas are densely populated and the viability of the pathogen is aided by tropical climates. This makes the continent of Africa an especially effective breeding ground for many dreaded diseases like malaria and Ebola.
A large airline in Madagascar, Air Seychelles, stopped flights in January of this year hoping to help contain the virus. The WHO is now working with officials in that country to slow the progress of the disease.
Naturally, many of you will be asking yourselves- ‘might the plague come to America?’ Unfortunately, it already has. The good news is that with rapid treatment with basic antibiotics, it can be stopped. What’s scary is that it could trigger a major breakout in warmer areas that are poorly served by the medical community.
On average, 7 cases a year are reported in the United States. Rural areas in the westernmost part of the country are usually the hardest to be hit. Warm climates and long distances from medical facilities are the best indicators of where an outbreak is most likely to take hold and spread.
The pneumatic plague first visited our shores in the year 1900, according to the CDC. Since then, fewer than 1,000 cases have been recorded.
So, if you’re hoping to avoid the plague altogether, your chances are pretty good. If there has been an outbreak near you, it might be wise to obtain a mild antibiotic. General cautionary measures include avoiding contact with sick animals and dead animals. Rodents are most notorious for carrying the disease- but we don’t think we really have to tell anyone to stay away from them.
If you live in a warm climate and have a rat infestation, have the animals exterminated and removed by a professional. If, for some reason, you are forced to handle dead or sick animals- use every cautionary measure and piece of protective equipment available. Wash thoroughly after making any contact with sick or dead animals, and monitor yourself for symptoms carefully over the next 72 to 80 hours.