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The bubonic plague is a serious infection of the lymphatic system that is spread by infected fleas from small animals, including rats. There have been three main bubonic plague pandemics in the past, but can you still get it? What are the symptoms of the bubonic plague?
What is the bubonic plague?
The bubonic plague is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis.
This bacteria is normally found in small mammals and their fleas. Humans can be infected through a bite from an infected flea, or by unprotected contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated materials.
The bacteria can also be inhaled through infected nasal or oral droplets.
The bubonic plague has been responsible for three widespread epidemics that killed millions of people.
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Bubonic plague symptoms
Bubonic plague in its most common form infects the lymphatic system and causes inflammation.
The lymph is a key part of the body’s immune system and it is made up of the tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus.
Within three to seven days of exposure to the bubonic plague bacteria, you will develop flu-like symptoms.
This includes a fever or chills, a headache, weakness, and swollen or tender lymph nodes.
At advanced stages the inflamed nodes can turn into open pus-filled sores, or the plague can spread to the lungs.
This is called pneumonic plague and symptoms include chest pain, shortness or breath, chills, fever, cough, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Septicaemic plague is slightly different and can cause symptoms such as fever, weakness, abdominal pain, chills and shock.
Infected tissue will bleed and die and this may cause skin to appear black.
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The first bubonic plague pandemic was in 542 and lasted until the eighth century. It killed up to 50 million people.
The second occurred in the Late Middle Ages in 1347 in Europe and is known as the Black Death. It wiped out a third of the European human population.
The latest outbreak of the bubonic plague was in the mid-19th century, and like the two previous outbreaks it started in Eastern China.
The World Health Organisation said this pandemic was active until 1959 when cases dropped to 200 per year.
Can you still get it?
Yes, you can still get bubonic plague although it is very rare.
650 cases are reported a year, and between 2010 and 2015 there were 3248 cases reported worldwide.
While millions died in the bubonic plague pandemics, plague is easily treated nowadays.
Those who contract bubonic plague can be treated with antibiotics to prevent it from becoming more advanced and becoming pneumonic plague.
Pneumonic plague is more severe and can be fatal but recovery rates are high if detected and treated within 24 hours of onset of symptoms.
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