The Atlantic

Soviets Tried So, So Hard to Eliminate the Plague

“Literally tens of thousands of people were employed to just spoon poison into the burrows.”
Source: N. D. Mitrofanov / Natural Nidality of Transmissible Diseases / University of Illinois Press

The ancestral home of the plague, most infamous for causing Europe’s Black Death, has likely always been much farther east, in Central Asia. There, it lives in rodents, such as the marmots that make their burrows in the vast, open grasslands. For thousands of years, the fleas that bite those rodents have also been biting people. There are 5,000-year-old Bronze Age skeletons in the region that contain traces of the bacteria that cause the plague.

And yet, for a few brief decades in the 20th century, the Soviet Union thought it could eradicate the plague. In that era of Five-Year Plans, tens of thousands of people were mobilized to poison rodents, spray DDT, and burn any

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