Facts About Plague
What is plague?
- Plague is a bacterial infection of rats, ground squirrels, prairie dogs and other rodents on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
- There are two kinds of plague infection, bubonic (boo-bahn-ick) and pneumonic (new-mahn-ick).
How is plague spread?
- Bubonic plague is spread through bites from plague-infected fleas or insects.
- Typically, human populations become infected after a large number of rats have died from plague, which forces the movement of the flea population from its natural rat reservoir to humans.
- Bubonic plague is NOT transmitted from person to person.
- Pneumonic plague is classified as primary or secondary.
- Primary pneumonic plague is spread through having close contact with a person or animal infected with pneumonic plague.
- Typically, it is spread from person to person or animal to person, primarily from the mouth and throat droplets or aerosols from the infected person.
- Pneumonic plague IS transmitted from person to person.
- Secondary pneumonic plague occurs when the bacteria spread to the lungs through the blood in a person with bubonic plague.
What are the symptoms of plague?
- Patients develop symptoms of bubonic plague 1-8 days after being bitten by an infected flea.
- Symptoms present as a sudden onset of fever, chills, weakness, and a swollen or tender lymph node called a bubo, which usually develops within one day.
- Buboes typically are found in the groin, armpits, or neck regions and can be very painful.
- Occasionally some people infected with bubonic plague will develop blood infections.
- Patients typically develop symptoms of pneumonic plague 1-4 days after infection.
- Symptoms of pneumonic plague include severe pneumonia, chest pain, difficulty breathing, cough and coughing up blood.
How do you know if you have plague?
A physician’s complete and thorough physical examination and laboratory testing are needed to confirm whether or not you have bubonic or pneumonic plague.
How is plague treated?
- Bubonic and pneumonic plague can be treated with antibiotics.
- Pneumonic plague can be more serious, and may require advanced supportive medical care and isolation as it IS spread from person to person.
How can you prevent plague?
- Currently there is no vaccine available to the general public.
- You can minimize your risk for infection of bubonic plague through good rodent control efforts and limiting your exposure to rodents and wild animals.
- While pneumonic plague is extremely rare, you can limit your risk of exposure by limiting your contact with infected persons and washing your hands frequently.