Health Insider Update


Return of The Black Plague

Return of The Black Plague
September 27
14:11 2015

There is a war raging for longer than any historical conflict, and this assault is waged by a very different, far tinier adversary than we’ve seen before. In the 14th century a bacterium called Yersinia pestis wiped out around 30 – 60 percent of the European population. Centuries later, despite tremendous scientific advances, scientists still fear the potential of another plague. In fact, the very same bacterium that caused the plague, Yersinia pestis, has been found in Colorado and the United States – in 2014!

While medicine and various forms of treatment have improved since the 13 hundreds, the same can be said about bacteria. In a population of bacteria, there exists a natural diversity among even the same strands, in the same way that humans don’t all look alike. When exposed to antibiotics, most microbes die, but some stronger variations of the same strand live on, passing on their robust genetic material to future generations. The overuse of antibiotics by medical professionals and meat producers have only sped up the process of bacterial evolution.

In addition, new research focuses on the genetic mutation of cells. Evidently, if stressed by antibiotic or extreme temperature exposure, a variety of strains begin mutating, quickly producing a variety of different strains of itself. This variety, as discussed above, increases the odds of a bacterium’s genetic material surviving, reproducing, and gaining strength. Many scientists believe that modern E. coli has gone through this process.

Although our science has progressed to a point that would no longer be recognizable to a 14th century man, we are merely keeping up with nature’s own progress. Just as penicillin is no longer as strong as it once had been, many bacterial strands, including E. coli and Yersinia pestis, are only becoming more powerful and resistant to antibiotics. The threat of another Black Death is unfortunately all too real.


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Sean Gibbons

Sean Gibbons

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