The Plague–Our Next Herbal Quest

To play a game one must be ready for the unexpected challenge. Our Quest on Chagas disease was just closed (yes there was a “winner”) and we’re now preparing a report. It would be lovely to have a spot of quiet time to write it up but alas, along comes the plague.

Residents in the Concho Valley area off of Highway 61 noticed hundreds of prairies dogs had died in a short span of time. Prairie dogs are considered sentinel animals to the fact that plague is in the area. Officials with Arizona Game and Fish were notified by an alert resident and further contact was made with health officials from Apache and Coconino counties, the state health department, as well as experts at Northern Arizona University. NAU is home to the Microbial Genetics and Genomics Center and has been a key player in testing for plague for the past 10 years. The lab sent a team to the area to trap fleas in the prairie dog holes that had recent die-offs. The team’s first visit was on August 27 and results from the lab testing showed positive for plague.

Its been popping up here and there, which it does from time to time until it dies out without reaching epidemic levels. But now it seems to be spreading with cases in , , and .

In an article titled, about another case in Colorado, we read:

Most people recover with antibiotic therapy, but early treatment is important, experts say. “The last plague fatality in the United States was in 2009, because it was not recognized early enough,” Kugeler said.

Fleas infected with the bacterium Yersinia pestis are the usual source of plague, but infected animals, including rabbits, rodents and pets, can also transmit the disease.

The biggest barrier to treatment is that many doctors don’t recognize the symptoms — which include swollen lymph nodes — as those of plague. In addition to a tender, swollen lymph node in her groin, Downing also had low blood pressure and a high heart rate, according to published reports.

, also called, the “Black Death” of 1665 is of particular interest to herbalists because of Thieves’ Vinegar. There was a small band of thieves going around looting valuables from the dead and dying, apparently without any concern about catching the disease themselves. When they were finally apprehended, a deal was struck – “Tell us how you were able to protect yourselves and you’ll go free”. Thus, the formula for an herbal blend called “Thieves Vinegar” was made known. These days its also made as an essential oil blend. There are many recipes for making the vinegar available online. For more on the history go

Our students will now go to the House of Quests to locate instructions for this mission (provided they have the key).

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