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The Black Death Returns: Bubonic Plague Confirmed in Arizona

It seems like each week introduces a new doomsday scenario, doesn’t it? Between the rising nuclear tensions, the ever-present perils of climate change, and the good ol’ existential asteroid threat, there are a whole host of likely ways the world of human beings could come to an untimely end. After all, planet-wide mass extinctions have happened before and will most surely happen again. Just ask the dinosaurs – actually no, they’re all dead. While the fears of gene editing gone awry, rogue artificial intelligences, and nuclear extermination are all part of modern life, an unlikely threat from our past is rearing its head again: the Black Death.

The Black Death gets its name from the discoloration caused by gangrene.

The Black Death gets its name from the discoloration caused by gangrene.

Yes, that Black Death: The Bubonic Plague, scourge of the Middle Ages, terrifying in its scope and speed. The plague is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria and most commonly spread by fleas carrying the germ. The fleas hitch rides on small rodents which cohabitate alongside humans and well, you know the rest.

The Black Death was a major turning point in European history, leading to all manners of social reorganization and development.

The Black Death was a major turning point in European history, leading to all manners of social reorganization and development.

The Bubonic Plague cost the lives of an estimated 50 million people in the 14th century, while another outbreak in the late nineteenth century killed close to 15 million mostly in China and India. Now, health officials in Arizona are warning residents not to spend too much time cuddling with rodents after fleas collected throughout the state have tested positive for the Bubonic Plague.

The plague gets the name "Bubonic" from the bubobes, or swollen lymph nodes that appear on infected individuals.

The plague gets the name “Bubonic” from the bubobes, or swollen lymph nodes that appear in infected individuals.

Public health departments in Navajo County and Coconino County found the fleas on dead prairie dogs near the town of Williams, AZ and the metropolitan city of Flagstaff. Officials have issued statements warning residents to avoid camping or recreating in areas where rodents are known to live, keep cats indoors and dogs on leashes, and don those creepy plague doctor costumes. Ok, maybe that last one is my suggestion. If we’re gonna plague, might as well plague in style.

Plague doctors would stuff the bird-like noses of their masks with herbs in the belief that foul smells, or miasmas, spread the plague.

Plague doctors would stuff the bird-like noses of their masks with herbs in the belief that foul smells, or miasmas, spread the plague.

So far, no human cases have been confirmed in this most recent outbreak. The plague still claims about 120 lives each year in undeveloped parts of the world where antibiotics and medical facilities are still in short supply. Hopefully, given the early warning, Arizona officials can tamp this outbreak down before it goes full-on Michael Crichton.