Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Mad science: Meet the new disease-spawned end times; looks like the old disease-spawned end times.
Over at Foreign Policy they've got a nice post on Black Death 2.0.
Plague has never really disappeared, but it suddenly seems poised for a comeback. Indeed, world health officials have quietly recategorized plague as a "re-emerging" disease in recent years, and it now infects 2,000 people annually, killing 200. The Chinese government even quarantined an entire town this summer after an outbreak of pneumonic plague, which eventually killed three and infected nine more. And experts fear the next stage of the disease will be especially dangerous, fueled by age-old phenomena, such as humans trying to use plague to wage war on their enemies, as well as new ones, such as climate change.
Welcome to the plague years, the next generation. For most people, plague automatically means the Black Death, which began in the 14th century and killed a quarter to a third of Europe's population, roughly 15 million to 25 million people. This is the best-known plague pandemic, but it wasn't the first. That honor goes to a sixth-century outbreak that originated in northern Africa and took out as many as 100 million people. Nor was the Black Death the last major pandemic. Plague spread through China and India during the 19th century, killing some 12 million people, and then spread to the United States in 1900, causing an epidemic in San Francisco.
Between major pandemics, the plague never completely disappeared. It never does: It merely retreats until conditions favor another outbreak.
You may think, "So what? We licked before, we'll lick it again." Ah, not so fast, my too confident friend. The plague hasn't been sitting around, waiting for us to come kill it.
Today, plague is endemic among the rodents of the American Southwest. Isolated outbreaks also occur regularly in East and Southern Africa, Vietnam, Burma, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Central Asia. What's more, there are already troubling signs that the disease is evolving into even more dangerous forms: Scientists recently discovered a drug-resistant strain of the plague in Madagascar.
There is a bright side: This awesome look might become fashionable again.