Plague – Congo DR

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After several weeks without reported human cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), new cases were reported between mid-February and mid-March 2020. Since the beginning of the year, a total of 20 suspected bubonic plague cases with 7 deaths had occurred in the following zones:

  • Aungba (4 cases and 2 deaths)
  • Linga (7 cases and 5 deaths)
  • Rethy (6 cases and no deaths)
  • Aru (2 cases and no deaths)
  • Kambala (1 case and no deaths)

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis_. It is found in animals throughout the world, most commonly rats. Other rodents like ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, rabbits, and voles can also carry the disease. Fleas typically serve as the vector of plague. People can also get infected through direct contact with an infected animal, through inhalation. Pneumonic plague can be spread from person to person.

The disease is treatable with antimicrobials if started early enough.

Photo: Yersina pestis bacteria in the gut of a flea.

The Plague has a long history. The first known occurrence was the Plague of Justinian in the sixth century. Well known is the Black Death, which accounted for the death of at least one-third of the European population between 1347 and 1353. The Third Pandemic, sometimes referred to as the Modern Plague, began in the late 19th century in China and was spread by rats on steamships. It claimed close to 10 million lives, due to use of antibiotics not being well understood. Penicillin, the first true antibiotic, was discovered in 1928.

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