While the world continues to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, several other (far more deadly) viruses have made emerged in Africa - the most recent among them being bubonic plague, which has killed at least 31 people and sickened over 500 in the Biringi area of Ituri Province in northeastern DR Congo between November 15 and December 13, according to AFP, citing Ituri Health Minister Patrick Karamura.
Aside from five instances of pneumonic plague and two cases of septicemic plague - which occurs when the disease spreads to the lungs or blood, the vast majority of cases were bubonic plague - with younger people suffering the most. The average age of patients has been 13, with the youngest being a three-month-old baby, according to Anne Laudisoit of New York-based Ecohealth Alliance (which has made recent headlines for their years-long collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology).
According to the World Health Organization, outbreaks are a regular occurrence of the plague which is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium and is endemic to the province where it was first confirmed in 1926. It works by traveling through the bloodstream and attacking the nearest lymph node before spreading to others - causing painful swelling which can sometimes cause the nodes to break open into 'buboes,' according to RT.
The disease is typically accompanied by fever, headaches and vomiting. Without proper treatment, the plague kills between 30 and 90 percent of those infected, though it is easily defeated with modern antibiotics - which are sometimes difficult to obtain in the DRC due to lack of funding and the presence of various militant groups which actively interfere with healthcare efforts.
In the 14th Century, the bubonic plague (Black Plague) killed approximately 34 million people, reducing Europe's population by roughly one-third. Then in the late 17th century (1665-1666), London experienced the Great Plague, which was spread by Dutch trading ships carrying bales of flea-ridden cotton. An estimated one-fifth of London's population succumbed to the disease (via Columbia.edu).
The latest outbreak in Ituri Province began after massive numbers of rats began to die, which had been infected by fleas, which have since began biting - and infecting, humans with the disease.
In other Africa virus news, West Africa is experiencing its first Ebola outbreak since 2016, while the DRC suffers regularly from Ebola, malaria, cholera, HIV and other diseases.