The Plague—Yes That Plague—Is Alive and Well

07 Aug

Black Death

The Black Death. It hit Europe in the mid 1300s and killed millions—-some say 100 million or between 1/3 and 1/2 of Europe’s population. It changed history. It altered mankind’s view of religion. It disrupted travel and trade. It helped bring on the so-called Dark Ages.

The Black Death marches through Europe

The Black Death marches through Europe

In truth there were several plagues. caused by several different diseases, but the Black Death was especially destructive. Though it has been challenged by some, the Black Death was in all likelihood caused by a nasty little critter called Yersinia Pestis.

But that was centuries ago. Now we know what causes plague and we know how to treat it. It’s passed to humans by bites from infected fleas and can be eradicated with antibiotics. At least in most cases. So like small pox, isn’t it a relic of the past? Not really. The bug is out there and every now and then it raises its head as if to say—-Remember me?

Several cases have cropped in Colorado in the past couple of years, with two recent deaths: high school athlete Taylor Gaes and an as yet unnamed adult. Last year there were other cases of this infection.

And now another case has occurred in California–a child camping in Yosemite National Park.

So the plague is not just of historical significance, but rather is still with us.

I’ve blogged about this before and here are the links to those posts:


Posted by on August 7, 2015 in Medical History, Medical Issues


5 responses to “The Plague—Yes That Plague—Is Alive and Well

  1. Kathleen Kay

    August 7, 2015 at 8:52 am

    When I was a child I received a bubonic plague vaccination in preparation for a move to a Third World country. I’ve often wondered if I would have any lingering protection as a result, or if it would have worn off entirely years ago?


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      August 7, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      It would need to be updated if you visited a place where plague was endemic.


  2. Angus Brownfield

    August 7, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    When I worked at California’s Department of Public Health in the 1960s, there were two full-time zoologists, working out of the Bureau of Vector Control, whose primary assignment was monitoring plague in wild rodents AND among the rats in dumps around the San Francisco Bay Area, where plague was enzootic.


  3. Suzanne Adair

    August 8, 2015 at 9:17 am

    I got Bubonic Plague in 2001, in a suburban area of metro-Atlanta. Nearby development had displaced rats. Rats found their way into our yard and garage. My dog carried the rats’ fleas to a couch.

    No one wants to believe you can get Plague in your yard in Atlanta, right? Widespread panic would ensue. So it was misdiagnosed as a virus, and I wasn’t given antibiotics appropriate to Plague. That meant my immune system and genetics had to get rid of it. Took about two weeks for my lymph nodes to recede, and the one in my right groin felt weird for about a year afterwards. After I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, I described my symptoms to a doctor; he went pale and said yes, most likely I’d had Plague.

    Obviously I’m partially CCR5 resistant. My mother’s family did come from that area in England where people survived Plague centuries ago. Because of what happened to me, I suspect that Plague is being misdiagnosed in the U.S. and is actually a lot more common than what the CDC is reporting.



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