A plague is a serious infection caused by bacteria commonly transmitted through fleas. Yersinia pestis is the organism that causes plague. The organism lives in small rodents found in rural and semirural areas such as areas of Africa, Asia and the United States. Plagues have been seen affecting humans and animals around the world for centuries. So, what are ways people and animals can become infected?
There are three ways people can become infected with the plague:
- Bite- A bite from an infected flea (infected with plague bacteria)
- Direct contact- If a person is handling an animal that is infected or has died from the plague they can be infected from tissues or fluids from the animal.
- Inhalation– Through inhalation of respiratory droplets, a person can become infected
Not all plagues are the same. Depending on where the infection occurs in the body and the signs and symptoms to follow, plague is split into three different categories: bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic. What’s the difference between all three?
The bubonic plague is when a person is bitten by an infected flea. Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, chills and weakness. This type of plague is named after buboes, which are swollen lymph nodes. Buboes can be found in different areas of the body including the groin, arm pit or neck. The treatment for this plague includes antibiotics. If not treated, the bacteria can spread to other areas of the body.
The septicemic plague is when a person is bitten from an infected flea or when a person becomes infected due to handling an infected animal. Septicemic plague symptoms can occur on their own or can be developed from untreated symptoms stemming from the bubonic plague. Symptoms of septicemic plague include fever, abdominal pain, shock, and possible “bleeding into the skin and other organs.” This can include bleeding from a person’s mouth, nose, rectum, or under their skin.
The pneumonic plague is caused by inhalation of infectious droplets or from “untreated bubonic or septicemic plague” which are spread to the lungs of a person. Pneumonic plague symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and bloody or watery mucous. This type of plague can spread from person to person.
Each year approximately 1,000 cases are reported to the World Health Organization. The plague has affected all people of all ages with cases ranging from infants to adults ages 96. Before the introduction of antibiotics, many had passed away from the plague due to treatment not being available. Between 1900 to 1941, the mortality rate of people living in the United States infected with the plague was 66%. After the introduction of antibiotics, these numbers significantly dropped to 11%. Prevention is the best way to help stop the spread of the plague. While there is no vaccine available, people can take certain measures to protect themselves against the plague. To find out tips on prevention please visit https://www.cdc.gov/plague/prevention/index.html .