Could the Bubonic Plague Be the End Result of Progressive Urban Policies?

Frank Franklin II

In the Middle Ages, the bubonic plague killed millions in Europe. Fleas that feed on rats, mice, and squirrels transmit the illness when they bite humans. Rats and mice are a particular problem because they often live in proximity to humans. When rodent populations explode, the risk for disease transmission to humans rises. Poor sanitation attracts rats. New York City has a rat problem, and now it is making people sick.


On Fox News Friday night, Dr. Marc Siegel reported 14 cases and one death from leptospirosis in New York City. Humans become ill by coming into contact with rat urine. Seigel blamed declining sanitation in the city, with piles of garbage remaining for days at a time. It is generally a seasonal disease that emerges in late summer and early fall.

When host Jesse Waters asked Siegel if it was the bubonic plague, Siegel responded, “Not yet, but we’re getting there.” He noted that the flu-like illness caused by leptospirosis could be mistaken for COVID-19 initially.  Siegel said the infection, which is treated with penicillin, infects about 1 million every year globally, causing an average of 59,000 deaths. Most of the illnesses are in poor and developing countries.

Dr. Drew Pinsky explained how diseases tied to poor sanitation could become a pernicious problem when he sounded the alarm in Los Angeles in 2019. Cases of typhus had emerged and started to spread. Like the bubonic plague, it is transmitted to humans by fleas, mites, lice, or ticks that bite an infected animal, like a rat. And typhus wasn’t the only disease tied to poor sanitation originating in homeless encampments, according to Pinsky:


“Tuberculosis is exploding,” Pinsky said. “Non-tuberculosis acid-fast bacilli, exploding. And then the rat-borne illnesses, plague and typhus… and then we had typhoid fever last week. Even I missed that one… so typhoid fever means, ‘Oh, now we have oral-fecal contamination,’ and that’s going to mean parasites and cholera. Here we go, everybody. Everything you found in your history books, we got it! It’s coming.”

The illnesses did not remain confined to Skid Row and other poor areas. Rats infested Los Angeles City Hall and the downtown police station. Employees in those buildings caught typhus, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, and staph infections as a result. Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, worked with residents on Skid Row. He caught E. coli, strep, and staph in one trip to the area to distribute water, and it cost him his leg. He now wears a prosthetic.

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This month, San Diego, California, reported an outbreak of shigella, another disease tied to poor sanitation, in homeless encampments. Unlike some of the other illnesses, shigella is an illness spread by surface transmission. Between October 12 and 21, the city reported 15 confirmed and three probable cases.


According to Siegel, Chicago is the most rat-infested city in the country. It is so bad that Mayor Lori Lightfoot imported 1,000 feral cats to hunt them down. The CDC even issued a warning about aggressive starving rats during the pandemic. The rodents moved from business districts with restaurants to residential areas, and residents observed rodents engaging in cannibalism. In addition, public health officials issued warnings about rat-borne illnesses and the disease infecting domesticated dogs.

Though it is rare to find the bacteria that causes the bubonic plague, continued policies that allow people to “choose” to be homeless and poor sanitation put entire cities at risk of an outbreak. Siegel implied it, and  Pinsky said it in 2019: “We’ve allowed millions and millions of rats to overpopulate. I predicted the typhus outbreak last summer. It’s going to be worse this summer, and it’s just a matter of time before plague gets onto those fleas and into our population. It’s just inevitable.”

Progressive cities are seeing third-world problems with rodent-borne illnesses. Letting homeless Americans live in encampments like Skid Row, where these illnesses emerge and proliferate, increases the risk that rodent-borne diseases will occur and spread. Instead, residents in progressive cities need to demand a shelter-first approach to eliminate these dirty, crowded, outdoor living conditions. This philosophy can address the underlying causes of homelessness, addiction, and mental health while keeping everyone safe from medieval illnesses.


And for the sake of New Yorkers, let’s hope the new mayor can figure out how to pick up the trash.



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