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The best-known symptoms of Black Death are the raised bumps around the lymph nodes generally known as buboes. As the person gets sicker, these tend to darken, which is where the name "black death" comes from. Other symptoms of Black Death are actually rather similar to a bad case of the flu. Patients will often develop fevers, muscle aches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting. In truth, the actual term "black death" is not used as often as it once was, and more often now, the disease is called "bubonic plague," or simply "the plague."
It doesn’t take long after the symptoms of Black Death appear for the patient to die, and this is one of the reasons it can still be very dangerous even with modern medical treatments. Since many of the symptoms are relatively common in much less deadly disorders, people may not always seek the treatments they need. Sometimes people may die within three days of showing the first symptoms, and this doesn’t give the person very much time to realize he is suffering from the Black Death or even recognize the potential seriousness of his illness.
Pneumonic plague, which is a respiratory infection from the same bacteria that causes Black Death, leads to a deadly type of pneumonia, and this kind of plague can sometimes be transmitted through the air, making it much more dangerous. Bubonic plague, on the other hand, is usually transmitted via the bites of parasitic insects that have also feasted on the blood of infected rodents. In the past, people often lived in very unsanitary circumstances, and they didn’t generally have any reliable methods of pest control. As a result, their homes were often infested with rats and other rodents in a way that is much more severe than would be common in more modern eras.
During historic times, the combination of unreliable medical techniques and the prevalence of rodents lead to terrible epidemics of Black Death. According to many experts, millions of people died, greatly decimating many historic populations. Some of the worst Black Death epidemics happened in China and Europe.
Eventually, more reliable treatments were developed, and people found better ways to protect themselves from rodent infestation. Generally speaking, antibiotics have become the most common approach when a patient shows symptoms of Black Death. These drugs are usually able to fight off the bacteria pretty effectively, but early treatment is generally crucial to give the patient the best chance of recovery.
A story appeared in the news some time back -- maybe a couple of years -- about a little girl who was hospitalized with high fever, vomiting, etc. The doctors treated her for septic shock, but she didn't improve, and blood tests didn't show anything.
Turns out, she had been camping in the woods with her family and had come in contact with a dead squirrel. When her doctor found out, she suspected plague and treated her accordingly. The little girl improved immediately and was able to go home a few days later.
It's odd how a disease once so common could become so rare that even trained doctors don't know to look for the signs.
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