Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Plague! the Plague!

BBC reports that the London Plague epidemic of 1665 was indeed caused by the YPestis bacteria, aka Bubonic plague

supposedly, in between plagues the bacteria merely infected rodents: which is why we get occasional cases in the Navajo area each year.

But is the plague still alive in European rodents?

"We don't know why the Great Plague of London was the last major outbreak of plague in the UK and whether there were genetic differences in the past, those strains that were circulating in Europe to those circulating today; these are all things we're trying to address by assembling more genetic information from ancient organisms."

The rumor is that the massacres and famine deaths from Genghis Khan's army conquering the Middle East were the source of the Plague, but this hasn't been proven.

related factoid: When I googled for the disease, I used the older term, Pasteurella Pestis, but apparently they change the name.

Yup, it used to be named after good old Louis, who not only invented Rabies vaccine and pasteurization but proved that "spontaneous generation" was nonsense.

but apparantly, YPestis was not discovered by Pasteur, but by a scientist working from his Institute.

Y. pestis was discovered in 1894 by Alexandre Yersin, a Swiss/French physician and bacteriologist from the Pasteur Institute, during an epidemic of the plague in Hong Kong.

 However, Pasteur did discover another animal disease so has that family of germs named after him 

The genus is named after the French chemist and microbiologist, Louis Pasteur, who first identified the bacteria now known as Pasteurella multocida as the agent of chicken cholera.

the disease still pops up on and off in the Southwest (most docs working for the IHS in the Navajo area know to keep an eye out for the symptoms) but also pops up now and then in VietNam and/or in the deserts of China... and Gerbils on the Steppes were probably the source of the epidemics of the middle ages.

The Black rat fleas were supposed to be the reason it spread, but now these rats have pretty well been replaced by the Brown rat in Europe. is this why we don't see more epidemics originating there? The reoccuring outbreaks of plague in Europe suggest a vector that allowed the disease to pop up again and again, then it stopped...So where was the source animal?

Camus' book The Plague was based on an epidemic in French colony of North Africa (in Oran in 1944). He used the reaction of the locals as an analogy on how the French people reacted to the Nazi takeover.

And it still is hiding there somewhere: LINK to the 2003 outbreak

Epidemiologic and biomolecular findings strongly suggested the existence of a local animal reservoir during this period, but its origin (resurgence or re-importation) could not be determined.

so why worry?
This sudden and unexpected reemergence of plague, close to an important commercial seaport, is a textbook illustration of a public health event of international importance. It also demonstrates that the danger of plague reoccurrence is not limited to the currently indexed natural foci.
ah, and could terrorists get hold of the plague and spread it?

This 2009 outbreak in an terrorist camp in Algeria worried a lot of people. But apparently they were just dirty (body lice and lack of hygiene) not trying to develop it as a WMD...

But of course, some smart bozo could theoretically find some and spread it again. Luckily bathing and pest control and antibiotics would stop the epidemic.

nor was this the only recent epidemic:

The last reported serious outbreak was in 2006 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa, when at least 50 people died.


and the "ideology before reality" items on Zika:

Related item: Florida green types want to stop spraying for mosquitoes that carry Zika virus.

Hmm... wonder if they know about the Yellow fever epidemic in Angola, which could be spread by the same bug?

and the Zika funding bill was blocked  by Democrats in Congress because it did not include Planned parenthood funding. 

uh, a separate bill could have restored the PP funding, but never mind.

Related item: The fall of the Roman empire has many causes, but there is a good argument that Justinian could have revived much of the empire in Europe except for the Justinian plague...
which was found to be caused by YPestis.

and of course, the plague weakened the eastern Roman Empire and opened the area for conquest by Mohammed's armies.

  NIH link.

The epidemic plague significantly contributed to the weakening of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the rapid decline of the Persian Empire, while during the early expansion phases of Islam, it indirectly favoured the nomadic Arab tribes which, moving on desert or semi-desert territories, succeeded in escaping the contagion more easily.


Ottoman History podcast on how that empire handled the plague

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