Everything has begun with an outbreak recorded in eastern Utah which has killed about eighty prairie dogs. Another one has attacked California, more specifically, the Yosemite National Park, and has massacred a large number of grey squirrels. That was the first alarm of a situation that presently has become alarming. Very alarming.
There have been twelve cases that involved human beings and already four ascertained deaths. Whereas it is too early to talk of an epidemic, nonetheless the authorities warn the population. Considering that the increase of the infection has reached 266 per cent in just three months (compared with the annual average). And as if this alone were not enough, for at least 35 years now in Utah – says Charla Haley, a member of the Health Department – no deaths had occurred at all. A slap in the face of all those who think that research and technology give humanity the power to keep under control even the evolution of diseases; that, essentially, we can govern natural processes.
What frightens at present is the aggressiveness of the virus which has already sneaked in the States of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, California and Oregon. Normally, with an antibiotic therapy it is possible to defeat the disease, but this time it has not been enough. Gives food for thought also the different age categories of the victims that range from 16 to 79 years.
The Black Death, as it was called during the Middle Ages, does not spare neither young nor old. It induces to evoke dramatic scenarios such as those of the 1665 England, when it caused between 75,000 and 100,000 victims, i.e. more than a fifth of the total London population. Nonetheless, this is a trifling number if compared to the millions of people killed by the epidemic that devastated Europe between 1347 and 1353.
The plague is caused by a bacterium, Yersinia pestis, which circulates among wild rodents and their fleas. It can be transmitted to human beings if they are bitten by fleas, or through contact with other infected animals or people. This is the reason why the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has warned the population about the symptoms of the plague: fever, stomach ache and vomiting, swollen lymph nodes under the armpits and in the neck and groin areas. The advice to those who live in areas where the disease has been declared are the following: “To wear long trousers whenever it is possible to do so, and to use insect repellents on cloths and skin”, as well as “to avoid direct contact with sick or dead animals and never to eat squirrels, chipmunks, or other rodents”.
And if it is true that the 1600 plague arrived in England via Dutch commercial vessels, that transported cotton from Amsterdam, the current globalization raises certainly the risk of contagion. Therefore, campsites were closed in California (both the National Forest of Stanislaus and the Crane Flat and Yosemite campsites) and the tourists who stayed there were invited to undergo scrupulous controls.
As always, there are also conspiracy theories, according to which the virus of the plague might have escaped from – or even used by – the laboratories that make experiments in the field. Of course there are no official confirmations, and the authorities tend to reassure the public (Dr Paul Med, from the CDC, has said that “the dead are not necessarily a reason for alarm”. Not necessarily does not imply that it is to be excluded. Prevention measures continue, health care services seek to monitor the number of cases and the mapping of the area is constant. In the meanwhile, fear that the world could make return to the Middle Ages, among religion wars and epidemics, seems to acquire more and more substance.