Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The bacteria are found mainly in rats and in the fleas that feed on them. Individuals and other animals can contract plague from rat or flea bites or by humans managing infected animals. The most common form of plague, known as buboes, results in swollen and tender lymph nodes in the groin, armpits or neck. The rarest and deadliest form of plague affects the lungs and it can spread from one individual to another. Treatment options involve strong antibiotics to prevent serious complications from occurring.




There are three forms of plague:

 Bubonic plague causes tonsils, adenoids, spleen and thymus to become inflamed. Symptoms can include tender lymph glands, chills, aches, tiredness and fever.

Septicemic plague occurs when plague bacteria multiply in the blood. Symptoms can include fever, chills, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, shock and bleeding under the skin or other organs

Pneumonic plague affects the lungs and is the most serious form of plague. Signs and symptoms can begin within a few hours after infection, and may include cough with bloody sputum, breathing difficulties, high temperature, nausea, vomiting and weakness. The use of antibiotics is vital for treatment in order to prevent fatal consequences. 






Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is transmitted to humans when they are bitten by fleas that have previously fed on infected animals, such as rats, squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, and chipmunks. The bacteria can also enter the body if an individual comes into contact with an infected animal’s blood. Domestic pets can become infected with plague from flea bites or from feeding off infected rodents. The most serious form plague, called pneumonic plague, affects the lungs and can spread from individual to individual through infectious droplets coughed into the air by a sick animal or human.


Risk factors

The risk of developing plague is very low; however there are factors that can increase this risk. They are location, profession and hobbies.

  • Location: Plague outbreaks are most common in rural areas and in urban areas characterized by overcrowding, poor hygiene and a high rat population (Africa).
  • Profession: Veterinarians and their assistants have a higher risk of coming into contact with plague-infested animals.
  • Hobbies: Camping, hunting or hiking in areas where plague-infected animals dwell can increase the risk of being bitten by an infected flea.



Complications of plague may include the following:

·         Death:  Untreated plague has a high fatality rate.

·         Gangrene: Blood clots in the small blood vessels of the fingers and toes that can disrupt the flow of blood and cause the tissue to die.

·         Meningitis:  Inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord




Treatment options for plague typically involve isolation in a hospital room and receiving powerful antibiotics such as:

·         Gentamicin

·         Doxycycline (Vibramycin)

·         Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)

  • Levofloxacin (Levaquin)




A few recommendations for preventing being exposed to plague include:

  • Taking antibiotics to prevent infection during a risky period or having been exposed to plague outbreaks
  • Keeping pets free of fleas
  • Using insect repellent when camping, hiking or around areas with large rodent populations
  • Keeping the home environment feel of any potential infectious substances (rodent-proofing)