News24 reported on 25 October that South Africa is one of nine countries warned by the World Health Organization (WHO) to take precautionary measures for the "black death" plague, also known as bubonic plague, which can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
The other eight countries include the Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, France's La Réunion, the Seychelles and Tanzania.
This followed after a recent outbreak in Madagascar in September 2017.
Ever since, the WHO has been concerned that the disease will spread – 124 people died and 1 133 people were infected.
One of the biggest pandemics in history
The WHO stated that the disease can be treated in the present day with antibiotics, but in the fourteenth century this disease was still responsible for causing 50 million deaths across Europe.
Bubonic plague – the facts
Bubonic plague is an infection of the lymphatic system, pneumonic plague is an infection of the respiratory system and septicemic plague is an infection in the blood stream.
While bubonic plague is transmitted to humans via fleas living on rats, pneumonic plague is the most virulent and least common form of the plague and can be inhaled and transmitted between humans without involvement of animals or fleas.
It occurs when Yersina pestis bacteria infect the lungs and cause pneumonia and, without treatment, it can kill within 24 hours.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms include sudden fevers and chills, headaches, body aches, weakness and shortness of breath, chest pain and cough, sometimes coughing up blood and blood in the sputum.
How is it treated?
Antibiotics are effective in the treatment of plague, and should be started as soon as possible to prevent complications. The antibiotics used for treating plague include tetracyclines (such as doxycycline), fluoroquinolones (such as ciprofloxacin) and amingolycosides (including streptomycin and gentamycin).
History of bubonic plague
The bubonic plague signified real terror in urban communities for hundreds of years. Spread by airborne bacteria or by infected fleas living on rats in unhygienic urban conditions, this disease wiped out two-thirds of the inhabitants of parts of Europe in the 14th century.
The plague returned for centuries, often in the summer months. It is thought that the Great Fire of London in 1666 was largely responsible for ending this scourge in London, as it destroyed many of the favourite haunts of the rats which bore the infected fleas.
But in other areas, including modern urban environments, the Black Plague (aka Black Death) is still a reality – although a lot less terrifying since the advent of antibiotics.
Here are some more facts about this disease
The information in this article originally appeared in a previous article published on Health24.