If somebody mentioned any sort of plague, let alone the black plague, there’s a good chance you’d remember that one lecture in history about the black plague, or that one scene in a documentary you watched about how the Black Death wiped out 60% of Europe’s population in the 1300s. Because, the Black Plague is a thing of the past. Or at least, that’s what people thought, until about a month ago when a couple people in China got the black plague.
Now, before I explain how that could have possibly happened, let’s start with the basics. What was the black plague, even? The black plague, or black death, was a bubonic plague caused by a bacterium, Yersinia Pestus. It arrived in Europe from the 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina, between 1346 and 1347. One of the scariest parts of the black plague was how contagious it was, and how fast it spread. “The mere touching of the clothes,” wrote Italian poet Boccaccio, “appeared to itself to communicate the malady to the toucher.” At the time, nobody knew how the black plague was spreading, and nobody knew how it could possibly be treated, or prevented. All people had actually figured out about it was how contagious it was, causing doctors not to treat patients, and businesses to shut down. No matter where anybody fled, it was still there, not only affecting humans but a lot of the animals around. The plague had finished doing most of its job by the early 1350s, and it was spotted every couple of generations, but nothing much.
Now, onto what’s happening in today’s world. About a month ago, three people in China were diagnosed with the plague. Before these three, however, two people, a young couple in China, died from the plague in May, from eating a raw kidney from a marmot, which was a local health remedy. Nothing’s happened since then, until now. According to state media Xinhua, the first two of three now diagnosed were diagnosed with pneumonic plague by doctors in the Chinese capital Beijing. They are now receiving treatment in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, and the government is working hard to contain it to only the two of them. Both patients also have the pneumonic version of the plague, which is the most damaging kind. Currently, we don’t have a vaccine for the plague, but if given fast enough, modern antibiotics can prevent as much as death.
Only days after, on November 5, a 55 year old hunter in China’s inner Mongolia, contracted the disease after killing and eating a rabbit. He came in contact with 28 people before being put in quarantine to be treated, and the twenty-eight people were all quarantined as well. In a stroke of luck, none of them ended up being diagnosed with the plague. The plague outbreak ended there, for now, but the black plague really never seems to go away.
By Mihika Shivakumar