Explained: Bubonic plague threat emerges in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic

At a time when the world is grappling with China-originated COVID-19 pandemic, another deadly disease - Bubonic plague – has emerged in the Northern Chinese city of Bayannur, raising panic among health workers.

Bayannur falls under the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. China has heightened its vigil in the wake of the new threat.

The Bubonic plague, dubbed Black Death, is the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history. It had caused about 50 million deaths across Africa, Asia and Europe in the past. India saw the outbreak of this disease in 1994.

What is Bubonic plague?

The Bubonic plague is caused by Yersinia Pestis, a zoonotic bacteria usually found in small mammals and their fleas.

How does it spread?

Humans are highly susceptible to plague.

The disease spreads when the bacteria-infected fleas bite human beings. It spreads because of direct contact with infected tissues or fluids of infected rodents or while handling an animal that is sick with or that has died from contracting plague.

It can also infect people who come in close contact with the body of someone who has died of the disease.

Can Bubonic plague spread from person to person?

There are three types of plague. Bubonic plague, Septicemic plague and Pneumonic plague.

Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague and cannot be easily transmitted from person to person. However, some people with Bubonic plague might develop Pneumonic plague, which may be transmitted from person to person through cough droplets.

What are the symptoms of Bubonic plague?


Patients may develop sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, body weakness with one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes. These nodes are called buboes. Yesterina Pestis bacteria multiply in the lymph node closest to where the bacteria entered within the body. The bacteria can also potentially spread to other parts of the body.

The incubation period for Bubonic plague is around two to six days after a person is infected. However, a person exposed to Yersinia Pestis through the air would show symptoms within one to three days.

How is Bubonic plague diagnosed?

It is diagnosed by the testing of blood, sputum or lymph node aspirate samples of symptomatic persons. Preliminary results can be obtained in less than two hours. Laboratory confirmation usually takes 24 to 48 hours.

How can Bubonic plague be treated?

Since plague is caused by bacteria, it can be treated with the help of antibiotics. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the blood or lungs, which will turn out to be fatal.

How fatal is Bubonic plague?

Bubonic plague can be severe and fatal in humans. The case-fatality ratio is 30 to 60 per cent for Bubonic plague. It can be extremely fatal and can cause death in less than 24 hours if not diagnosed and treated in time. However, early diagnosis and treatment can save lives.

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