(Sept. 14, 2015)– Another American has come down with the plague — and this time, they’re not out West.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that a person in that state had the bubonic plague, one of what is now 14 such cases reported nationwide in 2015.
The affected resident is from Marquette County, which is in northern Michigan along Lake Superior. But the resident didn’t necessarily contract the disease in Michigan. The state agency noted he or she “recently returned from Colorado in an area with reported plague activity.”
Colorado has been hit hardest by the plague this year. A teenager in Larimer County and an adult in Pueblo County died from the disease.
The current annual U.S. tally is double the recent average (although not yet a record).
What would be even more notable — if it’s pinned down — is if this person contracted the plague in Michigan, rather than Colorado.
Between 1970 and 2012, the majority of human plague cases have been in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. There have been other cases, but they have been in nearby Western and Southwestern states.
There was one exception, in Illinois. But as the CDC notes on a map showing all the reports, “the case … in Illinois was lab-associated,” meaning it arose out of a laboratory, rather than human-to-human or some other natural transmission.
Plague still around, but no longer a death sentence
This year’s other cases, out of places like Colorado and in northern California’s Yosemite National Park, better fit the traditional pattern of plague cases.
So does last month’s death of an elderly person in Utah.
While the plague is often associated with the Middle Ages, when the Black Death took millions’ lives, it has never completely gone away. That’s true even in highly developed countries.
The United States, for instance, has seen an average of seven such cases annually in recent decades, according to the CDC. About 80% of those involve the bubonic plague.
The good news is that, for most people, the plague isn’t the death sentence for most everyone that it was centuries ago, especially if it’s detected early. It can be treated with modern medicine such as antibiotics and antimicrobials.