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Archeology: Plagues and People

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Abstract

Plague occurs episodically in most parts of the world and one of the factors that promote the infection spread is the high number of rodents and other mammals that act as hosts for fleas, which function as a vector of the disease. The infection is a fatal infectious disease that affects various body sections. The infection might be transmitted through various ways depending on the body section that the bacteria inhabit. Among the modes of spread there are direct contact, use of contaminated food materials and through air. Pneumonic plague that concentrates in the lungs is in most instances associated with constant coughs, breathing difficulty, high fever, general weakness and constant vomiting. Bubonic is another type of plague that is associated with the lymph nodes. It is mainly depicted by swollen lymph nodes that in most cases will be realized a week after the flea bites.  Thirdly, septicemic plague inhabits the bloodstream and is characterized by fever, shock and constant bleeding from the mouth and the nose. The infection undergoes three logical development stages in the life of the carrier that will be explained in this paper. Similarly, various factors fuel the disease spread, this will include environmental factors, bio-cultural factors besides the climatic factors that will form a central part in this essay. In addition, the essay will attempt to depict the measures that can be adopted to prevent and treat the plague infection. Besides, the paper will elucidate pellucid the differential diagnosis that should be adopted for the infection.

Archeology: Plagues and People

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Development Stages of the Plague Infection

Plague just as other infections always undergoes periodic developments in the body of the host animal. The initial stage of life of the bacteria that causes the infection is the incubation period. This is the period between remaining infected with bacteria of Yersinia pestis and when disease symptoms first appear can be called plague. The period of incubation varies depending with the type of the plague. For example, Aberth (2011) affirms that the incubation period of pneumonic plague is usually 1 to 3 days. This period is always short in the pneumonic plague since the symptoms, which include coughing, are easily noticed. For bubonic plague, the period of incubation typically lasts for 2 to 6 days. The period is relatively long in septicemia plague since the bacterium has initially to multiply in the blood stream before the symptoms can be manifested. The period in septicemia plague ranges from three to six days. At the onset of the symptoms appearance the carriers of the bacterium become very infectious and can transmit the bacterium to others. Fleas that are infected remain infectious for several months; during this period individual’s contact with the animal will lead to infection.  Bubonic plague is not usually easily spread to persons unless in cases of direct contact with infected ones. Pneumonic plague is the most infectious since it is boosted by the environmental and climatic factors. Humid and windy climatic conditions are highly to increase the possibility of infections in instances of pneumonic plague.  Bollet (2004) opines that plague infections are likely to be prevented within the period of 48-72 hours after the infected person receiving antibiotic treatment. The disease if not prevented or treated can be severe and can lead to massive loss of lives. Statistics reveals that 50-60 per cent of cases of bubonic plague are usually fatal.  In 1347, the infection led to the death of people who were travelling on a Genoese trading ship from Caffa since the ship was infested by rodents infected with fleas. Massive loss of lives was also witnessed in the Middle East in 1348 owing to the outbreak of plague.

Environmental Factors

Various factors promote the spread of plague infection, environmental and cultural factors have contributed greatly to the transmission of the infection.  Bostrom (2003) reiterates that bubonic plague is described as ‘disease of nature,’ this is because the contraction and spread of the infection relies heavily on various environmental factors. Precipitation and temperature play a central role in the infection spread. High temperatures do not favor the spread of the bacterium since at high temperatures the bacterium cannot multiply. The spread of this bacterium is highly boosted by warm conditions that allows for effective and rapid multiplication of the bacterium causing the infection. In the American Southwest where the disease is prevalent, precipitation during early spring has always promoted the spread of the disease. The precipitations results into increased growths and availability of more insects that leads to an increased number of rodents owing to the availability of food. Similarly, Enemark (2007) agrees that the availability of the host animal plays major role in the spread of the infection.  Due to the presence of the wild rodents in the Southern America, the region has always been prone to plague infections. The type of flea also contributes to the spread of the infection. It is stated that not all kinds of fleas are carriers of the bacterium. A flea that is found in cats is not a good vector unlike the flea that is found on black rats and ground squirrels.  Walters (2004) asserts that availability of these host animals will therefore increase the rate of the infection spread. Pneumonic plague also relies greatly on environmental factors. Since it is air-borne, congested population will result into a rapid spread.

Social Factors

Rural-urban migration that has resulted into overcrowding besides poor sanitation conditions has made most urban centers to be more prevalent to the infection unlike other scarcely populated regions.  According to Henig (1996), overpopulation has also been a factor in the spread of bubonic plague as it is spread through a direct contact. This has resulted into various countries like China that are over polluted to be more prevalent to the disease unlike such countries as Germany that are scarcely populated. Social class has also contributed to the spread of the disease. Owing to the high poverty levels among the low class, individuals have assumed housing facilities in poor sanitary conditions that has made the probability of the disease spread high. High poverty levels have also caused inability for individuals to get access to medical attention hence making them prone to the disease infection.  Herring & Swedlund (2010) opines that sedentism, a social factor, has also played a part in the infection transmission.  Sedentism refers to when communities maintain the same residential for a long period. This will encourage the inhabitation of rodents that are the main carriers of the bacterium causing plague infection.

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In addition, bio-cultural factors have led to an increase in the spread of the infection. These are the factors that view the relationship of the social and cultural practices of people to the infection spread.  Besides, it considers human biological variability as a function of their responsiveness to the infection and the cause of action that they adopt to counter the spread of the infection. Culture is the acceptable practice by a particular group of people. This encompasses the food patterns of the society. Domestication of animals is practiced in some communities and this has had a hand in the increase of the disease. Animals such as goats and sheep are flea-hosting animals hence making the community that rear animals at a higher chance of being infected by the pathogen than communities that do not practice animal’s domestication.  In the American culture, pet rearing is commonly practiced by majority offamilies. This has led to the availability of the host animals making theAmerican society to be more prevalent to the plague infection. In some cultures rodents are highly preferred as food making the users to be prone to the infection since they are in constant touch with the rodents - the hosts of the fleas. Living partners have also influenced the transmission of plague infection.  Karner (2005) affirms that in Malaysia the living patterns is solely consisting of single family dwellings and the communal houses. In cases of a plague outbreak, individuals in the communal are more susceptible to infections unlike the individuals in the single family dwellings. This will be more pronounced in instances of pneumatic plague.

The infection is acquired through inhalation of airborne Y pestis either through proximity or bite of the infected flea. to human or an infected animal or by accidental exposure in the laboratory during experiments on the bacterium. It can also be acquired by handling tissues of infected animals or by being bitten or scratched by an infected animal. Plague can be transmitted from the rodent to the human through the bite of infected flea, in most cases it is the oriental rat flea. Statistics indicating that 80 per cent of plague infections in the world are caused by flea bites. Eating of these rodents that are hosts of fleas will also result into individuals contracting the disease. In instances of persons with pneumonic plague, respiratory droplets from domestic pets or people with pneumonia or plague can transmit plague as well; this is in most cases fueled by the climatic conditions like humid conditions and warm temperatures. Persons in the vet nary occupation may contact the infection owing to unprotected handling of infected with plague laboratory specimens or animal tissues. Bubonic plague can be transferred when persons are exposed to dead persons or dead mammals that that are carriers of the infection.  Kohn (2007) is of the view that wilderness activities like hunting that are done communally have made the transmission of plague to be more prevalent since the activities leads to increased contacts among persons. Commercial activities like trading on far can lead to persons involved to be at a high risk of contracted and transmitting the infection. If bacteria of plague were used as a bioterrorist agent, it would be spread in a  form of an aerosolized powder  or an aerosol. This would result in the pneumonic plague. An intentional release of infected fleas may also be possible

Mack (1992) asserts that in order to curb the spread and contraction of plague infection, various prevention measures can be adopted to ensure this. Proper storage of food materials should be adopted. This will ensure that rodents that are the main hosts of fleas do not get access to the food materials. Proper disposall mechanisms of the food materials and other refuge should be put in place to eliminate further  possibility of rodents inhabiting the housing environs. Using insect repellents while camping in rural plague-infected areas will reduce the chance of the disease spread. In cases of dead animals, limited contact should be ensured to avoid any possibility of contraction. In addition, McNeill (2010) asserts that cases of dead animals should be reported to the responsible authorities like the public health authorities in order for diagnosis to be undertaken to ascertain the cause of the demise. Prompt reporting is also applicable in cases of pneumonic plague since this form of the disease can be transmitted directly from person to person via infectious aerosols. Preventing flea infestation of dogs and cats is also another measure that can be undertaken to prevent the disease transmission and spread. Avoiding unnecessary contact with rodents or lagomorphs, and using protective gloves when handling fleas should be ensured. This can mostly be undertaken by people involved in laboratory experiments with the insects. Community sensitization on the safe measurers of action is also crucial in preventing infections. This will include enlightening persons on the possible carriers of the disease and ways through which infection can take place. The sensitization will result into persons being cautious on their cause of actions. Similarly, in attempt to control further spread of the infection, various strategies can be adopted such as isolation and quarantine. This is mostly applicable in cases of pneumonic plague where the infection is transmitted through the air. The individuals can be secluded in a particular place from others as they receive antibiotic treatments.  Oldstone (2009) informs that this can be undertaken in instances of bubonic plague to minimize contacts with the infected individuals. In order to prevent the spread the local physicians and other healthcare workers should be familiar with the signs and symptoms of the infection and consider it in the differential diagnosis. If the symptoms suggest human plague, samples should be taken for diagnostic confirmation to a laboratory. Vaccine can be administered and provide short term protection. This is recommended for workers in laboratory handling plague specimens and  epidemic areas visitors though must not be relied as the only protective measure against the plague infection.

Bacterium Yersinia pestis is the peccant agent of the systemic invasive infectious disease referred to as plague, the pathogen has peculiar adaptations that makes it to thrive in the body of the vectors for a long period. Poirier & Feder (2001) agrees that the pathogen thrives best in warm temperatures of 28 degrees centigrade and requires a period of 48 hours for its full growth. Yersinia pestis is easily destroyed by sunlight that can lead to the pathogen drying. When in the air, the bacteria will survive a period of one hour after which it dies. The pathogen Y pestis, has the ability to overcome the defense mechanisms of mammalian hosts and to overwhelm them with massive growth.  Ravenhill (2011) is of the view that the bacterium undergoes a rapid multiplication in the body of the carrier that results into the symptoms of the infection described At the onset of the entrance of the organism into the mammalian host rapid replication of the organism occurs. Differential diagnosis is always undertaken in the treatment of the ailment. This is the logical clinical procedure that is adhered to in the treatment process.  It entails detecting of the ailment by the clinical officers using the observable symptoms. Health care workers may diagnose plague by conducting laboratory tests on spinal fluid, blood, sputum, or using lymph nodes that are infected. People who are realized to have acute bloody sputum onset should be checked by a doctor as soon as possible in order to offer the required treatment. Bubonic plague may be treated through administering the antibiotics like streptomycin to the patients.  Ruddiman (2010) reiterates that pneumonic plague, if not treated fast after the symptoms, can be fatal. Pneumonic plague patients should be secluded to prevent the spread of the infection as they receive medical attention.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it becomes evident that plague infection is fatal and can result into devastating consequences if not treated. For example, if not promptly reported and treated, the ailment can result into massive loss of lives since it is highly communicable. It also becomes pronounced that treatment is more preferable at the incubation stage of the disease before it become infectious. Similarly, the spread of the disease is depicted to be fuelled by various factors. Environmental factors are explicated to play a great role in the spread of the infection. Specifically, temperature and precipitation determine the thrive of the pathogen causing the disease. In very high temperatures, the pathogen is denatured hence limiting the spread. However, at warm temperatures, the bacterium is efficiently transmitted from one vector to another. Cultural factors are also elucidated to play an important role in the spread of the disease. In order to curb the spread and the contraction of the disease various stakeholders in the society should adopt various strategies and measures jointly to curb this infection.

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