Learn About Plague

What is the definition of Plague?

Plague is a severe bacterial infection that may cause death.

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What are the alternative names for Plague?

Bubonic plague; Pneumonic plague; Septicemic plague

What are the causes of Plague?

Plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. Rodents, such as rats, carry the disease. It is spread by fleas.

People can get plague when they are bitten by a flea that carries the plague bacteria from an infected rodent. In rare cases, people get the disease when handling an infected animal.

Plague lung infection is called pneumonic plague. It can be spread from person to person. When someone with pneumonic plague coughs, tiny droplets carrying the bacteria move through the air. Anyone who breathes in these particles may catch the disease. An epidemic can be started this way.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, massive plague epidemics killed millions of people. Plague has not been eliminated. It can still be found in Africa, Asia, and South America.

Today, plague is rare in the United States. But it has been known to occur in parts of California, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.

There three most common forms of plague are:

  • Bubonic plague, an infection of the lymph nodes
  • Pneumonic plague, an infection of the lungs
  • Septicemic plague, an infection of the blood

The time between being infected and developing symptoms is typically 2 to 8 days. But the time can be as short as 1 day for pneumonic plague.

Risk factors for plague include a recent flea bite and exposure to rodents, especially rabbits, squirrels, or prairie dogs, or scratches or bites from infected domestic cats.

What are the symptoms of Plague?

Bubonic plague symptoms appear suddenly, usually 2 to 5 days after exposure to the bacteria. Symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills
  • General ill feeling (malaise)
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Seizures
  • Smooth, painful lymph gland swelling called a bubo that is commonly found in the groin, but may occur in the armpits or neck, most often at the site of the infection (bite or scratch); pain may start before the swelling appears

Pneumonic plague symptoms appear suddenly, typically 1 to 4 days after exposure. They include:

  • Severe cough
  • Difficulty breathing and pain in the chest when breathing deeply
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Frothy, bloody sputum

Septicemic plague may cause death even before severe symptoms occur. Symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bleeding due to blood clotting problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea, vomiting
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What are the current treatments for Plague?

People with the plague need to be treated right away. If treatment is not received within 24 hours of when the first symptoms occur, the risk for death increases.

Antibiotics such as streptomycin, gentamicin, doxycycline, or ciprofloxacin are used to treat plague. Oxygen, intravenous fluids, and respiratory support are usually also needed.

People with pneumonic plague must be kept away from other patients and isolation procedures will be followed in the hospital. People who have had contact with anyone infected by pneumonic plague should be watched carefully and given antibiotics as a preventive measure.

Who are the top Plague Local Doctors?
Elite
Highly rated in
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Institut Pasteur De Madagascar

Plague Unit 
Antananarivo, M, MG 

Minoarisoa Rajerison is in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Rajerison is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Plague. They are also highly rated in 1 other condition, according to our data. Their top areas of expertise are Plague, Leptospirosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Rickettsialpox.

Elite
Highly rated in
1
conditions

Institut Pasteur De Madagascar

Plague Unit 
Antananarivo, M, MG 

Voahangy Andrianaivoarimanana is in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Andrianaivoarimanana is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Plague. They are also highly rated in 1 other condition, according to our data. Their top areas of expertise are Plague, Tularemia, and Pseudomonas Stutzeri Infections.

 
 
 
 
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Elite
Highly rated in
2
conditions

Institut Pasteur De Madagascar

Plague Unit 
Antananarivo, M, MG 

Soanandrasana Rahelinirina is in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Rahelinirina is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Plague. They are also highly rated in 2 other conditions, according to our data. Their top areas of expertise are Plague and Leptospirosis.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Plague?

Without treatment, about 50% of people with bubonic plague die. Almost everyone with septicemic or pneumonic plague dies if not treated right away. Treatment reduces the death rate to 50%.

When should I contact a medical professional for Plague?

Contact your provider if you develop plague symptoms after exposure to fleas or rodents. Contact your provider if you live in or have visited an area where plague occurs.

How do I prevent Plague?

Rat control and watching for the disease in the wild rodent population are the main measures used to control the risk for epidemics. The plague vaccine is no longer used in the United States.

Flea
Flea bite - close-up
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What are the latest Plague Clinical Trials?
Immunogenicity and Safety of Subunit Vaccine of Plague Vaccine (F1+ rV) With Two Immunization Regimens: A Random Phase 2b Clinical Trial
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What are the Latest Advances for Plague?
Simple epidemic models with segmentation can be better than complex ones.
"Books Frighted Them Terribly": The Perils of Propagating Fear and the Ethics of Writing about Disease in Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year.
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Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date : June 20, 2021
Published By : Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Associate in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Mead PS, Nelson CA. Plague and other Yersinia infections. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 296.

Mead PS. Plague (Yersinia pestis). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 229.