Plague: It’s not just in the history books

Are you at risk for plague? Just hearing that question may make you do a double-take: Isn’t plague the disease that killed a lot of people that we learned about in school? Sadly, plague isn’t in the past with those awkward school memories. But just like bowl haircuts, it doesn’t have to be in your future.

Plague is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria, Yersinia pestis. It’s transmitted by fleas and occurs among animals and humans, including their pets. It usually affects seven people each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, as many as 2,000 cases are reported annually.

The bubonic plague is the most common form and most commonly comes from the bite of an infected flea. You can also get plague from infected animals or from inhaling droplets from someone who has the disease.

Most Americans who get plague are in western states. People who live in Colorado, north-central New Mexico and southwestern and northeastern California are especially at risk, according to a recent study.

The main symptoms to look for with plague are swollen, painful bumps in your armpit, neck or inner thigh. Other warning signs are getting really hot or cold, headaches, feeling exhausted or having a bad cough. It usually takes one to six days after being infected for symptoms to start.

It’s easy to ignore symptoms and just hope they will go away, like some of us do with overeating on Thanksgiving, but ignoring the plague will lead to much worse problems than a food baby. If you think you have plague, CDC recommends that you see a doctor, who can give you antibiotics to treat the disease. While plague-related death rates are nowhere near what they were in historical times, people do still die from the disease.

So, how do you prevent plague? Just in case you haven’t had your coffee or been rattled awake by your commute today, here are three easy-to-remember tips from CDC:

  • Get rid of places rodents might want to live around your house.
  • Use insect repellent on yourself and your pets.
  • Avoid picking up or touching sick or dead animals, and when you do, wear gloves.

You can also let your local health department know about sick or dead animals in the area and not let your animals sleep in your bed.

Knowing this, we can hopefully keep plague outbreaks in the past.

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