OK, Sure, Let’s Just Add Some Bubonic Plague to the Mix

A herd of sheep in Mongolia (Photo: Paula Bronstein, Getty Images)
A herd of sheep in Mongolia (Photo: Paula Bronstein, Getty Images)

On Sunday, officials in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of China, recorded a case of bubonic plague, otherwise known as the Black Death, while another case was reportedly detected in neighbouring Mongolia. Thankfully there’s no need to freak out about a pandemic yet — other than the one we are currently facing and from which the U.S. has experienced over 130,000 deaths as a result. Definitely continue to be worried about the unseriousness with which about half the world seems to be treating that.

In the first case, a shepherd who became ill with bubonic plague is stable and being treated in isolation at Wulat Zhongqi People’s Hospital. It’s not clear how he contracted the disease specifically, but in the region, marmots and other rodents are thought to be a source of plague, which they pass on to fleas. Another case of bubonic plague, reported today in the country of Mongolia, appears to be related to a marmot that had been hunted by a dog. The individuals who contracted the disease in Mongolia proper are recovering, according to local news.

As the New York Times reports, this incident follows two reports of pneumonic plague, also in Inner Mongolia, from November, and two deaths last May due to bubonic plague. (Both are caused by the same strain of bacteria, but pneumonic plague is able to spread from person to person.)

While cases of the Black Death cropping up in 2020 sounds alarming (and for the people contracting them, they most certainly are), bubonic plague can be treated with antibiotics if it’s detected early in its course. Modern medical intervention has dropped the mortality rate of these diseases, which crop up in the U.S. as well at a rate of around seven cases per year, to approximately 10%. Again — worrying. Bad. But very unlikely to be the start of a second Dark Age.

Health officials in China also recently warned of newly discovered strains of swine flu which, while not transmittable between humans, are certainly worthy of concern.

Pneumonic plague, like covid-19, is passed between humans via respiratory droplets, so if you’re dead set on Doing Something to feel in control of your bodily health — wear a fucking mask.