Be aware of insect-borne ilnesses
Sept. 24, 2012
by Jenni Sebora

West Nile virus outbreaks, Hantavirus cases, and, yes, bubonic plague. It seems like we are hearing more lately about frightening illnesses associated with insects and other pests, such as mice.

Health officials say we are hearing more about these cases because they are receiving attention. It is not an unusually bad year for some of the illnesses, including plague. There have, however, been the most cases of West Nile virus reported this year since it was first discovered in the US in 1999.

As parents, we want to keep our children safe; some precautions to take – wear mosquito spray, eliminate pools of water on your property where mosquitoes like to breed, avoid being out at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, make sure you have good screens on your doors and windows to keep mosquitoes out, and remind your children to stay away from dead animals, which can be infected with diseases.

When I heard the story of the girl in Colorado who was stricken with bubonic plague, I was mystified. The bubonic plague, black plague, or Black Death wiped out at least one-third of Europe in the 14th century. I did not know that it still existed.

How was it diagnosed? What were the symptoms that led to its diagnosis? These are questions that my students and I had as we discussed our daily current events and news stories.

These questions led me to some research on the bubonic plague. This bacterial infection produces a painful swelling of the lymph nodes, called buboes. A symptom of the illness includes swollen lymph nodes in the groin, as in the case of Sierra Jane Downing, the girl who recently contracted the illness while camping in Colorado.

Other symptoms include fever, chills, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea. It was reported that Sierra Jane incurred a fever of 107 degrees, with flu-like symptoms. She also had insect bites on her stomach.

Because of her symptoms, a history of where she had been (camping and exposure to a dead animal), and a journal article on a teenager with similar symptoms, a doctor first suspected it was bubonic plague.

Bubonic plague is transmitted to people through the bites of infected fleas, but can also be transmitted through direct contact with infected animals. The girl had come upon a dead squirrel, and her parents felt that she could possibly have been infected by insects near it.

The girl was treated with antibiotics in time and will recover. Today, the bubonic plague can be treated readily with antibiotics.

We certainly don’t want to be overprotective and not allow our children to play and scamper outside, but we need to use common sense, take appropriate precautions, and teach them to take appropriate precautions, also.

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