The minute we heard the word plague, we think of infected rodents scurrying all over the city ready to bite people and spread the infection around! This is slightly on the dramatic side, however, the fact remains that plague is a deadly disease transmitted from rodents like rats, prairie dogs, squirrels, etc. to humans via fleas. Fleas carrying infection from rodents and bite into the human, thereby transferring the disease to the human. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that over 1, 000 to 3, 000 cases of plague are reported every year. There are different kinds of plagues that can affect humans and animals such as pneumonic plague, septicemic plague and bubonic plague.
Septicemic plague is a rare but grave bacterial infection caused by a negative gram bacterium called Yersinia pestis. When this bacterium enters the bloodstream via an open wound in the body, the person is known to be infected by plague. The bacterium multiplies in the blood and results in septicemic plague. This form of plague like the other types is capable of causing disseminated intravascular coagulation. This is a blood clotting mechanism leading to formation of small clots in the blood vessels of the body.
Heading Down The Bubonic Plague Rabbit Hole
The bacterial endotoxins released in the blood cause blood clotting. These in turn conduces to abnormal bleeding in the skin and also disruption of normal blood flow to various vital organs. This condition can be fatal. Moreover, bleeding into the skin results in eruption of red or black patchy rashes on the skin. It likewise leads to vomiting and coughing of blood. This plague rarely spreads from person to person, however, it may be transmissible if the condition reaches the pneumonic stage. This form of plague can also be a complication developed after the person has been affected by bubonic or pneumonic plague.
Pneumonic plague, on the hand is a much more dangerous. It is considered to become one of the deadliest diseases, and is feared as a potential bioterrorist weapon. Pneumonic plague can occur as a secondary infection from bubonic plague, but can also be spread through the air, from person to person, or from infected objects, just the way cold germs can. Victims of pneumonic plague will die in a matter of a few days without prompt medical attention. Victims of pneumonic plague have only about a fifty percent chance of survival, even with medical attention. Pneumonic plague is referred to as the red death in view of the bleeding which is caused, as the lungs fill with bacteria and the victim struggles for breath, spitting up, not only watery phlegm, but also clots of blood.
The pneumonic plague bacteria thrive in the warm moist tissue of the lungs. When they’re expelled into the air, they’ll infect anyone close by, who’ll in turn expel bacteria, and therefore the disease spreads.
The progression of this infection in the body is rapid. The time period between start of the first symptom and severe cases of plague is very short. In some cases, people have died under the same day the first symptoms began appearing.
To diagnose a case of septicemic plague, the doctor will go through the regular procedure of asking the medical history and perform a physical examination. The doctor will thoroughly check the patient’s skin and will listen carefully to the lungs. This is done to check for signs of plague. However, the doctor poses the difficulty of ruling out other medical conditions with similar symptoms such as lymphogranuloma venereum, shigellosis, hernia, cat scratch fever, typhoid fever, appendicitis, or syphilis. Once these conditions are ruled out, the diagnosis about being infected with plague will be made.
Since the septicemic plague is fatal, treatment has to be carried out as soon as possible. As soon as the diagnosis is made, the patient is hospitalized and quarantined. The doctor doesn’t wait till the laboratory tests to begin treatment. He starts treating the patient with antibiotics and also gives supportive care. This involves treating the symptoms arising and preventing the condition from worsening. Immediate treatment reduces the death rate from 4-15%. However, people suffering from septicemic plague often lose their lives under the same day the symptoms first emerge.
Septicemic plague is a condition if left untreated can cause irreversible damage and even death in a days time. It can also occur as a complication of bubonic plague, so quick treatment is a must to save the lives of the person infected with this deadly disease.