The plague is something that people associate with killing millions of people in Europe hundreds of years ago, so the news that rats and fleas in NYC may very well be spreading this disease will undoubtedly spread fear throughout the population. The scary part is that this is not something out of a Hollywood horror movie, but instead it is a claim that is backed up by scientific research.
The Scary Study.
The study was carried out by a researcher based at Cornell University and it does make for some scary reading. During the study, 133 rats were involved and 6,500 samples were taken that included five of the most well known species of lice, mites, and fleas. Now, it is hardly surprising that rats that live in the New York subway should have fleas, but the surprising part is that 500 specimens also included Oriental rat fleas and this is where it gets even worse.
The reason why this study is scary is simply because the Oriental rat flea is known for its ability to carry the bubonic plague and even though the pathogen is missing, it still opens up the possibility of the virus spreading in what is always a crowded area. However, things get even worse when you consider that swabs were taken over an 18 month period of ticket kiosks, turnstiles, and various other parts of the subway system and this resulted in micro-organisms being discovered including aspects of the plague.
This does sound terrifying, but there is some slightly good news. These fleas only have a small chance of causing us any health risk as some actually have another type of bacteria called Bartonella. This can still be harmful to our health, but the ability for it to develop into the plague is pretty much non-existent.
So What Does It Mean?
You need to remember that around 100 people are bitten by rats in the New York subway every single year, so there is an identifiable risk out there. It means that Public Health officials need to take steps to carefully monitor the system and to do what they can in order to reduce the potential risk. The plague is certainly not dead and indeed it is known to exist in other parts of the US as it has been found in ground squirrels as well as prairie dogs.
It is also known that 10 people each year in the US develop the plague, so it is important that we forget the idea about it being something from the past. Instead, the plague is here and it is here at this present time, but most of us really do not have much to worry about.