Also called: Bubonic plague, Pneumonic plague

Plague is an infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The bacteria are found mainly in rats and in the fleas that feed on them. People and other animals can get plague from rat or flea bites. In the past, plague destroyed entire civilizations. Today plague is uncommon, due to better living conditions and antibiotics.

There are three forms of plague:

  • Bubonic plague causes the tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus to become inflamed. Symptoms include fever, aches, chills, and tender lymph glands.
  • In septicemic plague, bacteria multiply in the blood. It causes fever, chills, shock, and bleeding under the skin or other organs.
  • Pneumonic plague is the most serious form. Bacteria enter the lungs and cause pneumonia. People with the infection can spread this form to others. This type could be a bioterror agent.

Lab tests can diagnose plague. Treatment is a strong antibiotic. There is no vaccine.

NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Symptoms of Plague

The following features are indicative of Plague:
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • sudden onset of fever and chills
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • muscle ache
  • extreme weakness
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • shock
  • blackening and death of tissue in your extremities
  • cough with bloody sputum
  • nausea
  • difficulty breathing
It is possible that Plague shows no physical symptoms and still is present in a patient.

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Common Causes of Plague

The following are the most common causes of Plague:
  • bacteria Yersinia pestis

Risk Factors for Plague

The following factors may increase the likelihood of Plague:
  • rural and semi rural areas
  • veterinarians and their assistants
  • hunting in areas where plague-infected animals reside

Prevention of Plague

Yes, it may be possible to prevent Plague. Prevention may be possible by doing the following:
  • make your home and outbuildings rodent-proof
  • keep your pets free of fleas
  • always wear gloves while handling potentially infected animals
  • use insect repellent

Occurrence of Plague

Number of Cases

The following are the number of Plague cases seen each year worldwide:
  • Very rare between 1K - 10K cases

Common Age Group

Plague can occur at any age.

Common Gender

Plague can occur in any gender.

Lab Tests and Procedures for Diagnosis of Plague

The following lab tests and procedures are used to detect Plague:
  • Blood test: To detect the Yersinia pestis bacteria in your blood sample
  • Buboes test: To diagnose plague
  • Lungs exam: To detect the pneumonic plague

Doctor for Diagnosis of Plague

Patients should visit the following specialists if they have symptoms of Plague:
  • Infectious disease specialist

Complications of Plague if untreated

Yes, Plague causes complications if it is not treated. Below is the list of complications and problems that may arise if Plague is left untreated:
  • gangrene
  • can be fatal
  • meningitis

Self-care for Plague

The following self-care actions or lifestyle changes may help in the treatment or management of Plague:
  • Find and stop the source of infection: Helps in preventing plague
  • Protect health workers: By informing and training them on infection prevention and control
  • Ensure correct treatment
  • Stay in isolated area: Avoid close exposure to patients with pneumonic plague
  • Ensure safe burial practices

Patient Support for Treatment of Plague

The following actions may help Plague patients:
  • Inform people when zoonotic plague is present in their environment
  • Informing and training health workers on infection prevention and control

Time for Treatment of Plague

While time-period of treatment for each patient may vary, below is the typical time-period for Plague to resolve if treated properly under an expert supervision:
  • In 1 - 4 weeks

Is Plague Infectious?

Yes, Plague is known to be infectious. It can spread across people via the following means:
  • infectious droplets
  • infected animal's blood

Last updated date

This page was last updated on 2/04/2019.
This page provides information for Plague.
Biodefense and Bioterrorism

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