Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"The Plague "in the News

This seems to happen every few years, an outbreak of plague. If you can remember it's always out west...Colorado, Arizona. ect. The Plague, Black Death, Bubonic Plague, is caused by a bacteria called Yersina Pestis ( primarily transmitted by fleas, hence-"pestis") . The Plague that ravaged Europe in the 1300's originated in the East( probably China...all diseases come from China) and arrived in Spain ( probably on infected rats on ships) and spread rapidly across Europe. Here's the daily history lesson ( I used to teach History during the summers while in College). The great European famine occurred from 1314-1317, then the Hundred years war started in 1337, then "ta-dah"....the Black Plague arrives in1347. Europe was primed for this, famine and war mean a lot of dead bodies and loss of sanitation and you guessed it.....rats. The Plague killed an estimated 25 million people in just 5 years. In 2000 I had the privilege of attending the Passion Play in Oberamergau Germany. The plague was said to have stopped spreading at this city when the citizens promised to perform a play remembering the passion of Christ if God would stop the advance of the plague. Oddly, the Plague led to an increase in antisemitism as Jews were blamed for the outbreak.
So why is there a plague outbreak at the Denver Zoo? Here's a little known secret....almost all Zoo's are infested with...you guessed it ...rats. Over the years they build a complex maze of
tunnels underneath the zoo gaining access to all areas where there is feed on the ground. We all know how messy monkeys can be so there is a lot of feed on the ground. This explains how it can spread through an entire zoo. The staff works constantly to fight the vermin , but it's nearly an impossible task and control is the best you can hope for.
Yersinia Pestis infects it's victims and causes chills. fever, swollen lymph nodes( called buboes....hence the name) and ulcers. The resultant septicemia (bacteria in the blood) leads to DIC ( disseminated intravascular coagulation) and uncontrolled bleeding. With DIC you use up all of your clotting factors and then bleed out. You can imagine how bad this disease could be in a time prior to antibiotics. When you factor in a healthy dose of fear and mass hysteria you end up with people not touching or treating the ill. They would not even go into some homes where dead bodies were...but the rats would. With constant disease surveillance and antibiotics they will be able to get a handle on this outbreak just like in the past and it will disappear from the news....until next time.

No comments: