National Geographic : 2013 Nov
NEXT photos: NatioNal iNstitute of allergy aNd iNfectious diseases/scieNce source (top); cdc Plague Persistence the Black death isn’t a thing of the past. in 20 years there have been as many as 5,000 cases of plague, resulting in 100 to 200 reported deaths a year. in 2013 it persists on the centers for disease control and prevention’s list of reemerging diseases. “We’re not likely to have a big outbreak, but it’s percolating in rodent communities,” says cdc’s Ken gage. When those rodents die—say, nestled in the thatched roof of a mud house in uganda or at a campground in colorado—their infected fleas can end up on people nearby. eastern african nations are hardest hit, but cases can happen in any semiarid region when human and rodent populations mix. unlike in historical epidemics, though, the plague isn’t a death sentence today: antibiotics cure it, but timely treatment is critical. says gage, “if not diagnosed within four or five days, the prognosis can be pretty grim.” —Johnna Rizzo Plague bacteria Yersinia pestis (colorized image above) darken a rat flea’s gut (below). If the flea bites, the plague washes into the wound.