In the wake of 39 people in Madagascar being killed by an unrelenting strain of bubonic plague thought to be more vicious than the infamous ‘Black Death’ that killed millions in Europe, other reports of similar cases around the world are starting to come to fruition in the last few months. Besides the epidemic on Madagascar there have been recent reports of emergency quarantining in Kyrgyzstan in Asia following a number of identical cases and other unconfirmed isolated incidents across Africa.

There are some who, like me, believe that the vast natural and commercial changes on our planet are providing a brilliant platform for powerful diseases like this to thrive. But just what are the reasons exactly?

1.) Increased overseas trading
This is largely believed to have been the main reason for the spread of the notorious ‘Black Death’ back in the 1300’s to Europe from the West Indies. Particularly on the continents of Africa and Asia where the climate provides more of a feeding ground for the bacteria to spread due to the heat and humidity, the high demand of overseas shipping to other nations means that animals like rats, mice and fleas that are the main causes of the spread of the disease are able to cross international waters or for fleas going airborne through the atmosphere.

The sheer amount of commercial cargo liners and tankers that pass through areas of the world that are more vulnerable to the spread of the bacteria are providing the transport of just tiny amounts of infected creatures that can cause havoc due to the highly contagious nature of the virus.

2.) Habitat Destruction
Believed to be the main reason behind the current outbreak in Madagascar, It is believed that careless techniques behind large deforestation projects and other landscape changes are the key problems that have sparked the outbreak. Whether it is in Madagascar or in other regions of the African continent, excessive deforestation, mining projects or quarrying will force animals to become exposed to parasites that can transfer the virus through biting into uninfected tissue. Furthermore the loss of natural habitat for these animals will leave them no choice but to travel for a new place to settle which may end up in built up urban areas or dense forests on the outskirts of smaller towns.

This may become an issue in countries such as Liberia and Cameroon due to the large deforestation or mining operations taking place there. The large-scale dispersion of exposed animals is only going to take any potential disease much further afield.

Bubonic Plague

While the escalating situation in Madagascar would be considered to be isolated from mainland Africa the sporadic reports of further incidents already occurring on the continent is cause for long-term concern.

The ‘Black Death’ was responsible for what many consider to have been the largest pandemic in human history when it wiped out roughly 55% of Europe’s total population. Should this issue spread once more through an entire continent such as Asia or Africa containment on a much larger scale may become futile. The rapid spread of a viral disease such as the bubonic plague, which is now considered to be considerably more lethal than its counterpart of the 1300’s, is an example of how disease and bacteria are evolving just as steadily as the human race.

A large-scale problem is far from becoming an immediate issue as of now but is nevertheless a looming possibility. Due to the more widespread accounts across the globe of the plague it is not too hard to imagine that isolated pockets of the disease could spread rapidly across countries.

The answer then could be not just to do all that can be done to contain the current cases but also to find methods of tracking the spread of the disease and what areas of the globe are more vulnerable to what could fast become a pandemic on a global scale in the coming years.

BY: ROBERT PRITCHARD