Monday, February 27, 2012

Could Black Death Strike Again?

The year was 1348. Merchant ships arriving in Europe and the Mediterranean brought an unexpected cargo — black rats that had smuggled themselves aboard somewhere in the Far East. The rats were host to Oriental rat fleas, and the fleas were host to the Yersinia pestis bacterium. The fleas and their bacterium found new hosts among the human population, spreading their disease that, over the next few years, killed somewhere between 30% and 60% of Europe's population as more than 100 million people perished from what became known as the Black Death.

Small animals such as rats were once common in the population centers of the world. They still are, but eradication efforts in the more civilized areas of the world help keep them under control. Those efforts notwithstanding, places like New York City and other major cities in what is supposed to be a civilized part of the world continue to have a rat problem. On top of that, people have taken to keeping rats as pets. My, how things have changed.

But have things really changed? Could it be possible for another Black Death incident to erupt?

Rats feast on garbage. Humans create garbage. It follows that human activity attracts rats and fosters the growth of rat population. So what if there was an increase in the amount of garbage in our cities? How could that happen, and what would be the result?

I'll leave you to ponder the answers to those questions and segue to a related topic — how to remain safe around small animals in the wilds. You know how it goes — you arrive at a campground, or perhaps just pull over for a rest stop at a popular overlook high in the mountains. The next thing you know, chipmunks, bushy tailed squirrels, and perhaps the occasional raccoon come squeaking toward you looking for a handout. They've become accustomed to people feeding them, so they expect you to do the same.

So, what are my rules in this situation?

  • Don't feed them, even if they look hungry. It's tempting to feed seemingly friendly wildlife, but that accomplishes two negative ends; it makes them dependent, and it encourages them to hang round a human camp, which is dangerous for small critters. 
  • Don't try to touch. A startled or sick animal may scratch or bite you, transmitting disease. The range of diseases you can contract from small animals includes rabies, bubonic plague, hanta virus, among others. 
Small animals are cute, and Hollywood has trained us to believe they're friendly and safe to handle. That is not necessarily true.

Okay, back to the original topic. What would it take to launch another round of Black Death in the major population centers of the world? Not much. A labor strike among sanitation workers would immediately choke the city streets and sidewalks with garbage. We might take those workers for granted, but they are a major link in our survival, as they remove the primary attraction that would bring a riot of rats among us.

That said, are you prepared with a method of eliminating your own garbage in the event of a shutdown of garbage removal service? What about all your neighbors? Are you prepared to evacuate from the epicenter of what would potentially become ground zero for an outbreak of disease?

Maybe it's time to think about how you would keep yourself and your loved ones safe if something like that happened. Because it's only a matter of time.

1 comment:

  1. Some kind of death could pop up, nature has her way of trying to control our numbers even though we're getting very good at out smarting her.


    We'll be our own downfall.