Two years ago on Tuesday (16 December), the World Health Organisation in Geneva issued a warning that the world still faced the danger of explosive outbreaks of plague.
GV Countryside in New Mexico
GV Navajo reservation (2 shots)
GV Research technician (2 shots)
GV & SV Rodent traps (3 shots)
GV & SV Men injecting dog (3 shots)
SV Researcher picking fleas off squirrel (6 shots)
Initials CL/1900 CL/1910
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Background: Two years ago on Tuesday (16 December), the World Health Organisation in Geneva issued a warning that the world still faced the danger of explosive outbreaks of plague.
The Organisation described plague as a virulent disease carried by rat-borne fleas, and recalled that in the Middle Ages, bubonic plague killed 43-million people in Europe.
More recently, though, a report from New Mexico stated that plague had been a continuous problem in western United States since the early 1900s.
As a result, health teams have set up rodent traps over a wide areas of New Mexico to keep track of where plague fleas are biting, while health workers are keeping a close watch on known plague areas.
The situation is far from epidemic. The only states to have reported bubonic plague after 1946 are New Mexico .. 12 cases, California .. 3, Arizona .. 2, and Texas .. 1.
But over the centuries, plague has been known to attack and kill humans across wide geographical boundaries. Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America ... all five continents have had their exposure to the disease.
In South America, for example, plague has been endemic at least since early this century. Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador have all had to face the outbreaks of the disease. In Peru alone, there were more than 22-thousand cases over a 50-year period.
In Asia, the principal active plague centres in the middle of the 20th century were India, China and Burma. In Africa, thousands of cases were reported in the 1940's in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Dakar. Outbreaks also occurred in Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika, Madagascar, and South Africa.
The plague bacillus was identified in 1894. Outside the body, it is not very resistant to heat or to chemicals. But cultures held in ice-boxes have been known to retain their virulence for up to ten years.
It is primarily a disease affecting and transmitted by rodents. Man enters only accidentally into the usual cycle of infection ... but with fatal results. The health researchers in New Mexico are hoping to break that deadly cycle completely.