Bubonic Plague kills 1 in New Mexico, USA

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —  An 8-year-old New Mexico boy has died and his 10-year-old sister was hospitalized after both contracted bubonic plague, the first recorded human plague cases in the nation so far this year.

A child being infected by bubonic plague

A child being infected by bubonic plague

New Mexico health officials did not immediately say Thursday how the brother and sister contracted the infectious disease, but they are conducting an investigation at the family’s residence to determine if there is any risk to other people.

Plague is generally transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, but also can be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, rabbits and pets.

Symptoms of the bubonic form of the plague in humans include fever, chills, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck areas. Pneumonic plague, which is an infection of the lungs, can include severe cough, difficulty breathing and bloody sputum.

The Health Department, citing privacy concerns, would not release the name of the siblings or give a location for their home, other than saying it was in Santa Fe County. Spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer said the boy died in the last couple of days but she declined to be more specific.

Fleas collected from the area are being sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing. Health workers also canvassed the neighborhood to tell other residents that plague had been confirmed in the area.

The CDC says an average of 10 to 15 persons contract the plague each year in the United States. Modern antibiotics are an effective treatment.

What is the BUBONIC PLAGUE?

The bacteria

The bacteria

Bubonic plague is the best known manifestation of the bacterial disease plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis (formerly known as Pasteurella pestis). The term “bubonic plague” was often used synonymously for plague, but it does in fact refer specifically to an infection that enters through the skin and travels through the lymphatics, as is often seen in flea-borne infections. Bubonic plague kills about 50% of infected patients in 3–7 days without treatment, and is believed by many to be the Black Death that swept through Europe in the 1340s, killing millions.

Pathology and transmission

Bubonic plage bacteria under the microscope

Bubonic plage bacteria under the microscope

The bubonic plague is an infection of the lymphatic system, usually resulting from the bite of an infected flea. The fleas are often found on rodents, such as rats and mice, and seek out other prey when their rodent hosts die. Once established, bacteria rapidly spread to the lymph nodes and multiply. Yersinia pestis Bacilli can resist phagocytosis and even reproduce inside phagocytes and kill them. As the disease progresses, the lymph nodes can hemorrhage and become swollen and necrotic. Bubonic plague can progress to lethal septicemic plague in some cases. The plague is also known to spread to the lungs and become the disease known as the pneumonic plague.

Symptoms

The most famous symptom of bubonic plague is swollen lymph glands, called buboes. These are commonly found in the armpits, groin or neck. The bubonic plague was the first step of the ongoing plague. Two other forms of the plague, pneumonic and septicemic, resulted after a patient with the bubonic plague developed pneumonia or blood poisoning.

Other symptoms include spots on the skin that are red at first and then turn black, heavy breathing, continuous blood vomiting, aching limbs, coughing and terrible pain. The pain is usually caused by the actual decaying, or decomposing of the skin while the infected person is still alive.

History

The deadly disease has claimed nearly 200 million lives (although there is some debate as to whether all of the plagues attributed to it are in fact the same disease). There is mention of the plague in I Samuel 5 and 6, with the Philistines trying to remove it with an offering of gold tumors and gold mice to the Israelites. The first recorded epidemic ravaged the Byzantine Empire during the sixth century, and was named the Plague of Justinian after emperor Justinian I, who was infected but survived. The most infamous and devastating instance of the plague was the black death, which killed a quarter to half of the population of Europe. The Black Death is thought to have originated in the Gobi Desert. Carried by the fleas on rats, it spread along trade routes and reached the Crimea in 1346. In 1347 it spread to Constantinople and then Alexandria, killing thousands every day, and soon arrived in Western Europe.

Person infected by the plague

Person infected by the plague

The next few centuries were marked by several local outbreaks of lesser severity. The Great Plague of London, 1665–1666, was the last major outbreak of the bubonic plague in Europe. The plague resurfaced in the mid-18th century; like the Black Death, the Third Pandemic began in Central Asia. It spread worldwide, killing millions, into the early 20th century.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, plague was used as a bacteriological weapon by the Imperial Japanese Army. These weapons were provided by Shirō Ishii‘s units and used in experiments on humans before being used on the field. For example, in 1940, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service bombed Ningbo with fleas carrying the bubonic plague. During the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials the accused, such as Major General Kiyashi Kawashima, testified that, in 1941, some 40 members of Unit 731 air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas on Changde. These operations caused epidemic plague outbreaks.

Treatment

In modern times, several classes of antibiotics are effective in treating bubonic plague. These include the aminoglycosides streptomycin and gentamicin, the tetracyclines tetracycline and doxycycline and the fluoroquinolone ciprofloxacin. Patients with plague in the modern era usually recover completely with prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Vast search of Atlantic Ocean for Air France jet

By BRADLEY BROOKS and GREG KELLER, Associated Press Writers Bradley Brooks And Greg Keller, Associated Press Writers

RIO DE JANEIRO – An Air France jet with 228 people on a flight to Paris vanished over the Atlantic Ocean after flying into towering thunderstorms and sending an automated message that the electrical system had failed. A vast search began Monday, but all aboard were feared killed.

Military aircraft scrambled out to the center of the Atlantic, far from the coasts of Brazil and West Africa, and France sought U.S. satellite help to find the wreckage. The first military ship wasn’t expected to reach the area where the plane disappeared until Wednesday.

If there are no survivors, it would be the world’s worst aviation disaster since 2001.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the cause remains unclear and that “no hypothesis” is being excluded. Some experts dismissed speculation that lightning might have brought the plane down. But violent thunderheads reaching more than 50,000 feet high can pound planes with hail and high winds, causing structural damage if pilots can’t maneuver around them.

Sarkozy said he told family members of passengers on Air France Flight 447 that prospects of finding survivors are “very small.”

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, expressed hope that “the worst hasn’t happened,” and said “we have to ask God” to help find survivors.

The 4-year-old Airbus A330 left Rio Sunday night with 216 passengers and 12 crew members on board, said company spokeswoman Brigitte Barrand. Most of the passengers were Brazilian and French, but 32 nations in all were represented, including two Americans.

The plane was cruising normally at 35,000 feet (10,670 meters) and 522 mph (840 kph) just before it disappeared nearly four hours into the flight. No trouble was reported as the plane left radar contact, beyond Brazil’s Fernando de Noronha archipelago, at 10:48 local time.

But just north of the equator, a line of towering thunderstorms loomed. Bands of extremely turbulent weather stretched across the Atlantic toward Africa, as they often do in the area this time of year.

The plane “crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence,” Air France said. About 14 minutes later, at 11:14 p.m. local time, 0214 GMT (10:14 p.m. EDT Sunday), an automatic message was sent reporting electrical system failure and a loss of cabin pressure. Air France said the message was the last it heard from Flight 447.

While what happened to the plane has not been determined, a Pentagon official said he’d seen no indication of terrorism or foul play. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject.

Chief Air France spokesman Francois Brousse said a lightning strike could have damaged the plane. Henry Margusity, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather.com, noted that the thunderstorms towered up to 50,000 feet in the area, so it was possible that the plane flew directly into the most charged part of the storm.

Other experts doubted a bolt of lightning would be enough to bring the jet down. Some pointed to turbulence as a more dangerous factor.

“Lightning issues have been considered since the beginning of aviation. They were far more prevalent when aircraft operated at low altitudes. They are less common now since it’s easier to avoid thunderstorms,” said Bill Voss, president and CEO of Flight Safety Foundation, Alexandria, Va.

Voss said planes are built to dissipate electricity along the aircraft’s skin, and are tested for resistance to big electromagnetic shocks.

The plane disappeared in an area of the mid-Atlantic ocean not covered by radar. Brazilian, African, Spanish and French air traffic controllers tried in vain to establish contact. The plane was gone.

Within two hours, two Brazilian Air Force planes began a search mission that grew Monday to seven aircraft and three navy ships. But with nothing more to go on than the last point where Flight 447 made contact — about 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) northeast of the coastal city of Natal — they faced an immense area of open ocean, with depths as much as 15,000 feet.

A French search plane took off from a military base in Senegal on Monday, to be joined by two more from France, and the Navy was asked to send a craft to help as well, armed forces spokesman Cmdr. Christophe Prazuck said.

Asking for U.S. satellite help, Sarkozy said finding the plane “will be very difficult.”

“(I met with) a mother who lost her son, a fiancee who lost her future husband. I told them the truth,” he said at a grim news conference in Paris.

The 216 passengers included 126 men, 82 women, 7 children and a baby, Air France said. There were 61 French and 58 Brazilians; 30 other countries were represented, including two Americans.

In Brazil, sobbing relatives were flown to Rio de Janeiro, where Air France was assisting the families.

At the Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris, family members declined to speak to reporters and were brought to a cordoned-off crisis center.

Some people just missed disaster. Bernardo Ciriaco said there were two Air France flights leaving Rio for Paris Sunday night — and his brother was on one of them. It was not until hours later that his brother, Gustavo, called from Paris to say that he had been bumped to the missing flight, but then talked his way onto the other one.

“Thank God he complained until he got back on the original flight. Our family is so relieved,” Ciriaco said.

Air France said it expressed “its sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew members” aboard Flight 447.

Air France-KLM CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said the pilot had 11,000 hours of flying experience, including 1,700 hours flying this aircraft.

Experts said the absence of a mayday call meant something happened very quickly.

“The conclusion to be drawn is that something catastrophic happened on board that has caused this airplane to ditch in a controlled or an uncontrolled fashion,” Jane’s Aviation analyst Chris Yates told The Associated Press. “Potentially it went down very quickly and so quickly that the pilot on board didn’t have a chance to make that emergency call.”

If all 228 people were killed, it would be the deadliest commercial airline disaster since Nov. 12, 2001, when an American Airlines jetliner crashed in the New York City borough of Queens during a flight to the Dominican Republic, killing 265 people.

Airbus spokeswoman Maggie Bergsma said it was the first fatal accident of a A330-200 since a test flight in 1994 went wrong, killing seven people in Toulouse.

The Airbus A330-200 is a twin-engine, long-haul, medium-capacity passenger jet that can hold up to 253 passengers. There are 341 in use worldwide, flying up to 7,760 miles (12,500 kilometers) a trip.

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Keller reported from Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy, France. Associated Press reporters Emma Vandore, Laurent Lemel and Laurent Pirot in Paris; Alan Clendenning in Sao Paulo and Marco Sibaja in Brasilia; Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Belgium; Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Airlines and Transportation Editor Greg Stec in New York also contributed to this report.