28 July 2014

Centuries sweep around him like planets' rings

Last week, the government of China quarantined the city of Yumen because a man there had died of plague.  The quarantine was lifted a day later because none of his close associates developed the disease:

In China, a single plague death means an entire city quarantined

When the news of the quarantine broke, I observed a number of people reacting with surprise and alarm. Plague? In this day and age?

There is no cause for surprise, and not very much for alarm. Yersinia pestis never went away. It is endemic in the marmot population in central Asia, and has been for centuries. It's now endemic in parts of the southwestern United States, too -- instead of marmots, it's in the prairie dogs and other rodents.

According to the CDC, an average of 7 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. annually; when treated promptly with antibiotics, the mortality rate is about 11 percent. If you live in an area where plague is in the rodent population, and take precautions, such as avoiding cuddling those rodents, and treating your pets for fleas, you are likely to be safe from the plague.

The current outbreak of Ebola hemorraghic fever in several west African countries, an outbreak which has been criminally under-reported in the U.S. media, is more cause for alarm than a case of plague in China.

Maria Terrone

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