Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bubonic Plague in China

The pandemic du jour, now that H1N1 has lost its ability to scare the pants off us, is bubonic plague, which has recently cropped up in a very small way in China. To read some news reports, you'd think it was the first case of bubonic plague since 1350.

Actually, it's not that uncommon. For example, bubonic plague is endemic in the Usambara Mountains (Lushoto District) of Tanzania. I have visited the area... there were no travel advisories against doing so, at least in the mid 90s. A recent study of the sparsely populated area found that in the period 1986-2002, "there were 6249 cases of plague of which 5302 (84.8%) were bubonic, 391 (6.3%) septicaemic, and 438 (7.0%) pneumonic forms." Plague has been there for decades and illness from it is a seasonal phenomenon, like flu (although it's more deadly).

I mention this only because media seems to get stuck on a topic and ends up distorting reality - like making it seem that crime is rising, when it's actually falling; or clobbering us with every instance of abductions of pretty white girls, which are actually pretty rare.



Anonymous said...

Frankly, I haven't heard or read any scare mongering or pandemic talk regarding the pneumonic plague outbreak in N. China. Should the media then not report the outbreak at all? Seems to me there'd be complaints about that, then.

Bert said...

Read "State Of Fear", by Michael Crichton. At the end of the book he get's into how this is how "THEY" (the UN, government, powers-that-be, whomever) manufacture crisis' in order to better be able to control the masses.

Yappa said...

HI Bert -

I hadn't thought of that! Crises sure help sell newspapers, too.

Anon -

Given that there is always bubonic plague all over the world, the way many media outlets covered the recent tiny outbreak in China (and it was huge news all over the world) was irresponsible. There was no context, and without context it looked like the China outbreak was a significant threat.

I think it's the media piling-on phenomenon: one story proves interesting so they go looking for other similar stories and they play them up.

Sara said...

Plague is also endemic in the American west and a few people get bubonic plague each year from animals. Pneumonic plague is much scarier because it kills fast enough that people might not get treated in time.