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Alternative namesBubonic plague; Pneumonic plague; Septicemic plague
DefinitionPlague is an infection caused by the organism Yersinia pestis . It is carried by wild rodents and transmitted to humans.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Plague is transmitted among rodents and to humans by flea bite or ingestion of the feces of fleas . It can also be transmitted from human to human when a plague victim develops pneumonia and spreads infected droplets by coughing . An epidemic may be started this way.
Plague is rare in the United States, but areas where the disease is known to occur include parts of California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.
There are two types of plague, bubonic and pneumonic. The incubation period is 2 to 10 days but may be as short as a few hours for pneumonic plague.
Signs and testsThese tests may indicate a plague infection:
Immediate treatment with antibiotics such as streptomycin, chloramphenicol, or tetracycline is indicated. Oxygen, intravenous fluids, and respiratory support are additional treatments.
Patients with pneumonic plague are strictly isolated from other patients. People who have had contact with anyone infected by pneumonic plague are observed closely and are given antibiotics as a preventive measure.
Expectations (prognosis)Half of bubonic plague victims die if not treated, and almost all victims of pneumonic plague die if not treated. Treatment reduces the death rate to 5%.
Some complications include septicemia (blood poisoning).
Calling your health care providerCall your health care provider if symptoms develop after exposure to fleas or rodents, especially if you live in or have visited in an area where plague occurs.
PreventionRat control and surveillance of the disease in the wild rodent population are the main measures used to control the risk of epidemics. A vaccination is available for high-risk workers, but its effectiveness is not clearly established.
Update Date: 8/11/2003Daniel Levy, M.D., Ph.D., Infectious Diseases, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT