The Plague, or the Black Death could be back after a 600-year hiatus. Historians estimate more than 100 Million people died from The Plague during the 13th and 14th centuries. And the World Health Organization recently classed it as a “re-emerging human pathogen.”
Now scientists fear terrorists will use it as a weapon of mass destruction. Dr. Ashok Chopra, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas is on the front lines of study with the plague.
Bubonic plague is the most commonly recognized strain of the disease – but the pneumonic variant is much more virulent, and unlike bubonic, is spread via airborne particles.
“If terrorists use those organisms – they could utilize the bacteria. It could lead to mass deaths in a very short period of time. It would spread very, very quickly.
“Think about the bubonic plague in Europe in the 13th, 14th century. One third of the population was wiped out because of infection. That’s the typical scenario that you should think
These fears are leading scientists to research ways to vaccinate against this hearty disease. The Plague was used as a biological weapon by the Japanese in the past. As recently as WWII, they attacked the Chinese with warheads filled with plague-infested flees and rats.
To fight a potential bioweapons attack is a race against time. According to Dr. Chopra, the vaccine is the hard part. The plague is fairly easy to grow.
Dr. Chopra says there are currently antibiotics that can fight the plague, but the window of time from exposure to remedy is 24 hours. This is why a vaccine should be developed; Because with a mortality rate ranging from 60-100% and such a short window for treatment, the disease could spread at an exponential rate.
For example, if someone is exposed to bubonic plague and goes to a major airport, an outbreak will most certainly occur because that one person will interact with hundreds of others, either directly or indirectly. So then the second round of people exposed would probably be too large a population to immediately treat with antibiotics in such a short window. From there, there’s no telling how fast it would spread.
But a vaccine, on the other hand, shall be administered pre-emptively. Enough people will have antibodies to the bacteria that the outbreak will be contained or not even happen at all.
The Department of Defense is considering Dr. Chopra’s work and might fund additional research with primates.