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Chapter 5 : Bubonic Plague
In the 1850s, Koch, Pasteur, and their microbe-hunting cohorts, armed with a disease-causing theory as well as microscopes with improved powers of magnification, began searching for agents that might be the cause of plague epidemics. During the past two millennia, there have been three great bubonic plague pandemics. These resulted in social and economic upheavals unmatched by those due to armed conflicts or any other infectious disease. One of the plague pandemics, called the plague of Justinian, came to the Mediterranean from an original focus in northeastern India or via Central Africa. The buboes continue to enlarge, sometimes reaching the size of a hen’s egg, and when they burst there is agonizing pain. Death can occur 2 to 4 days after the onset of symptoms. However, in some cases the bacteria enter the bloodstream. The second form of the disease, which may occur without the development of buboes, is called septicemic plague and is characterized by fever, chills, headache, malaise, and massive hemorrhaging, leading to death. As with humans, the disease in fleas has a distinctive pattern. More than 80 different species of fleas are involved as plague vectors. Plague is endemic in many countries in Africa, the former Soviet Union, and the Americas.