It sounds more like an episode of House, but it’s real. And it’s scary. A 7-year-old Colorado girl, Sierra Jane Downing, contracted the bubonic plague. It’s not a disease we expect to hear a lot about these days, but it is one that you should be aware of. Here’s what you need to know.
Apparently Downing got infected with the virus while camping with her family last month and coming into contact with a dead squirrel. After several days of touch-and-go where her life was threatened, she is now taking steps towards recovery and is thankfully expected to leave her Denver hospital soon.
The bubonic plague is a rare disease that only affects seven people, on average, in the U.S. each year, but it can easily kill people, as Sierra Jane’s mother, Darcy Downing, found out:
I thought, ‘oh my gosh we’re going to lose her.’ I was very concerned.
It’s a disease that we associate with the Black Death that killed 25 million people in the Middle Ages. But it is something that is still cause for concern today and is still prevalent in Africa, Asia and South America.
So how is it caused and how can we protect ourselves?
The bubonic plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which rodents, such as rats, squirrels, rabbits or even prairie dogs or domestic cats may carry via their fleas. People can get the plague when they are bitten by a flea that carries the bacteria or when handling an infected animal.
According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of the bubonic plague include:
– General ill feeling (malaise)
– Muscle pain
– Smooth, painful lymph gland swelling
– Commonly found in the groin, but may occur in the armpits or neck, most often at the site of the infection (bite or scratch)
– Pain may occur in the area before the swelling appears
People with the plague need immediate medical treatment. Without treatment, about 50% of people with bubonic plague die.
As with any strange symptoms, call your doctor immediately if you develop any of these signs–especially after exposure to fleas or rodents.