Although the plague (commonly known as the Black Death) hasn’t really been on anyone’s worry-list since the middle ages, recent reports are showing a mild comeback in the strangest of areas: affluent New Mexico.
The plague got its famous moniker for terrorizing the poor back in the day. Unsanitary conditions and rat infestation made the malady a staple in poverty-stricken areas. The plague is rare in the U.S., and researchers say it’s spreading through New Mexico. Strangely, instead of the poor, the plague is affecting the rich. Why? Researchers will get back to us on that.
Reports USNews: “Where human plague cases occur is linked to where people live and how people interact with their environment,”said lead researcher Anna Schotthoefer of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation in Wisconsin. “These factors may change over time, necessitating periodic reassessments of the factors that put people at risk.”
The new report studied reported cases of the plague within the U.S. since 1976. Since that year, roughly 11 cases pop up annually, and most come from New Mexico. “The shift from poorer to more affluent regions of New Mexico was a surprise, and suggests that homeowners in these newly developed areas should be educated about the risks of plague,” Schotthoefer said.
Most New Mexico plague cases in the 1980’s were expectantly discovered among the poor. Recent shifts from poor areas to affluent neighborhoods in Santa Fe and Albuquerque have these researchers at an impasse – they have to completely re-evaluate everything that they think they know about the plague and its habits.
Despite this worrisome news, experts say that an outbreak of the plague comparable to the middle ages is highly unlikely. “This is not a disease of the past, but you are never going to see a massive outbreak of plague in this country,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “We don’t have the public health problems we used to have and people would be quickly confined if there were ever a large number of cases,” he explained.
Beyond this, Siegel is actually not that surprised to see the plague pop up in affluent areas. “We know that plague only exists where you have wild animals, and once a reservoir of plague is already present it is likely to persist,” he said. “It isn’t only about squalor; it’s about where the reservoir is.”
Besides, the plague treatable with antibiotics if you can catch it early.