Monday, March 21, 2016

plague's progress

Here in Europe we have the plague so firmly associated with the Middle Ages that many are not aware that the disease's causative agent, the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is still going strong in natural reservoirs eg in the western parts of the US. At the moment we don't need to worry too much, as it can be easily treated with antibiotics, but what if it develops multidrug resistance? Or if some unsavoury characters develop it as bioweapon complete with drug resistance?

Reason enough to worry a bit and to look at the trail of destruction that Yersinia has left in the past as well as its current presence and future risks. All this cheerful stuff appears in my latest feature which is out now:

A plague on mankind
Current Biology Volume 26, Issue 6, p R219–R221, 21 March 2016
Abstract and limited access to full text
The feature will become freely accessible one year after publication.

The city of Marseille suffered the last major outbreak of the second plague pandemic in Europe in spite of sophisticated quarantine procedures. After heavy casualties, the epidemic was confined to this area and died down there. This contemporary engraving is by the artist Michel Serre (1658–1733), who distinguished himself in the city’s response to the disaster. (Photo: Robert Valette/Wikipedia.)

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