You were probably under the impression that the Black Death died itself back in the late 1300s, right? Well, sadly, you’re wrong. The plague is back and spreading in Arizona. Yes, our modern day Arizona.
Before you clutch your rosary and stuff your pockets full of posies, let’s get some facts straight. What your medieval ancestors called “the plague” is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. According to UPROXX, Yersinia is contracted first by fleas.
The bacteria then causes said fleas to vomit on whatever critter they’re living on — usually rodents like that cute but scary mouse living in your kitchen.
Then your cat or dog finally catches that now infected mouse, thereby infecting themselves with Yersinia, and eventually potentially giving it to you.
Once in a human body, Yersinia can cause bubonic plague (the swelling of lymph nodes), septicemic plague (causing blackened and dying tissue), or pneumonic plague (respiratory failure).
Yeah, it’s no fun.
So how in King Edward III’s name did the plague end up in Arizona in 2017? The truth is that the plague showed up with the first settlers and never really left. Americans were still being infected with Yersinia pestis up through the 20th century. But our modern sanitation and hygiene standards means that we rarely bump up against the critters that cause the disease any more.
According to a 1978 study, 617 plague cases were reported between 1900 and 1975.
This time around, doctors and plague experts are worried about the Arizona outbreak due to the fact that rodents tested positive for the bacteria within a 120-mile span. The Arizonan plague is fairly widespread in comparison to previous outbreaks and can not only affect humans, but major “keystone” species that largely contribute to Southwestern ecosystems, as UPROXX reports.
Thankfully, treatments for plague in humans are available (praise be modern medicine). But even so, South-Westerners are urged to keep their pets inside and away from any wild rodents if possible.
No, children of the future probably won’t be learning about the widespread plague of 2017 in their history books. But stay safe and cautious and steer clear of Arizonian rodents.