Scientists have discovered a new antimicrobial-resistant strain of Yersinia pestis, the infamous bacteria that causes the plague, that may transmit from person to person.

Currently, the world is focused on surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. But aside from this, there are many other disease-causing viruses in the world that may result to another outbreak.

Among these pathogens is the Yersinia pestis, the dreaded virus that caused the plague, the devastating outbreak that killed tens of millions of people during the 14th century's famed Black Death. Although plague has been mostly eradicated in the industrialized world, it still kills hundreds of people every year across the globe.

Finding the "New" Strain

Yersinia pestis
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Yersinia pestis

According to the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the strain was discovered during a pneumonic plague outbreak in Madagascar's Faratsiho area in February 2013. Scientists from Northern Arizona University and the Institut Pasteur de Madagascar recently evaluated samples from this outbreak.

They found that the strain was resistant to streptomycin, a widely used antibiotic considered the first-line "drug of choice" for treating plague.

Related Article: Lambda Variant: New and Deadly COVID-19 Strain Shows Strong Resistance to Vaccine

Person-to-Person Infection

The researchers also demonstrated for the first time that this antimicrobial-resistant plague strain could be passed from person to person.

During the outbreak, 22 persons were thought to have been affected, three of whom died. Many of the 19 afflicted people who survived, according to the researchers, contracted the disease during one or more of the three death cases' traditional funeral procedures.

Professor Dave Wagner of Northern Arizona University's Pathogen and Microbiome Institute said in a release, "We determined - for the first time - that AMR strains of Y. pestis can be transferred person-to-person."

Flea infected with yersinia pestis
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Flea infected with yersinia pestis

Related Article: Outbreak of Untreatable, Drug-Resistant Superbug Fungus Unnerves Experts in 2 US Cities

Antimicrobial Resistance

"A spontaneous point mutation has rendered the [antimicrobial resistance] AMR strain from this epidemic resistant to streptomycin, although it is still susceptible to many other antibiotics, including co-trimoxazole. Fortunately, all 19 instances were treated with co-trimoxazole in addition to streptomycin, and they all lived."

There has previously been evidence of antimicrobial-resistant plague. For example, in 2017, scientists reported the case of a 16-year-old boy in Madagascar who was infected with Y. pestis bacteria that was discovered to be resistant to eight popular antibiotics, including streptomycin, used to treat the infection. This is the first time, however, that experts have found evidence of person-to-person transfer.

Plague in the Modern World

(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

Plague is widely regarded as one of the world's oldest and most deadly diseases. The Black Death, a pandemic that killed up to 50 million people in Eurasia and North Africa in the 14th century, was one of its most dreadful "achievements."

Although pneumonic plague outbreaks are now exceedingly rare, scientists believe plague is a reemerging and neglected illness, notably in Madagascar, an East African island that accounts for most annual global cases.

Because there is no vaccination to prevent death from the plague, it must be diagnosed quickly and treated with antibiotics.

An AMR strain of Y. pestis was discovered from a pneumonic plague outbreak in Madagascar in 2013, comprising 22 cases and three fatalities, and was resistant to the antibiotic streptomycin, which is generally the first-line-line treatment for plague in Madagascar.

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