India: Plague

A new outbreak of Plague has appeared in India. The Indian Health Minister has confirmed that four deaths caused by a “mysterious illness” were due to the Plague, the same disease that appeared as the Black Death in the fourteenth century and wiped out a third of humanity between 1345 and 1360.

Indian Health Minister C.P. Thakur declared that the four deaths were the result of a pneumonic plague outbreak but he added that “the good news is that the outbreak has been contained”.

The disease known as pneumonic plague broke out in the State of Himachal Pradesh at the beginning of February. Of the 18 people infected, four have died and the other 14 are in the hospital at Chandigarh.

The last time this disease broke out was in 1994, when 50 people died in the State of Gujarrat, Western India. This disease bears a heavy historical weight, which is the reason for the great media coverage when it breaks out.

Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, plague has two forms, Bubonic (the Black Death) and pneumonic, also deadly. The bubonic plague is caused by the bite of fleas which live on infected rodents (rats and mice). It causes swelling and blackening of the glands under the arms and on the neck, hence the name “Black Death”. The pneumonic form can develop as a result of the bubonic plague, or can be caused by inhaling droplets from the respiration of infected humans or animals. In this case, the lungs are infected.

Both bubonic and pneumonic Plague are Class 1 identifiable diseases, under World Health Organisation directives. Both start with a high fever, cough and shivering. Bubonic plague develops into a condition which causes the characteristic swelling of the glands, the fever rises and vomiting ensues. Pneumonic plague develops with the same cough, fever and shivering but rapidly affects the lungs, the incubation period being a week. This is a particularly dangerous disease because it spreads through respiratory droplets which could easily enter an aircraft’s air conditioning system, transmitting secondary infection to the passengers travelling with an infected person.

Both types of Plague can be attacked with antibiotics, but the symptoms have to be attacked early on.


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Author`s name Editorial Team