Plague is a disease caused by Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis), a bacterium found in rodents and their fleas. People normally become infected through the bite of infected fleas, and although rare, other cases can occur by direct contact with infectious body fluids (such as blood) or inhaling infectious respiratory droplets. Plague is not endemic in Georgia.

There are Three Forms of Plague

  • Bubonic occurs from a bite by an infected flea.
  • Pneumonic occurs when plague bacteria spreads to the lungs or is inhaled.
  • Septicemic occurs when the bacteria invades the bloodstream.

Possible Symptoms of Plague

  • Patients often have a history of possible exposure to infected rodents, rabbits and fleas.
  • The onset of bubonic plague is usually two to six days after a person is infected and symptoms include swollen, tender lymph glands that are accompanied by pain, fever, chills, headache and extreme exhaustion.
  • The bubonic form can lead to pneumonic and septicemic forms.
  • Pneumonic plague symptoms are similar to the flu and can include coughing up blood.
  • Septicemic plague symptoms include those previously mentioned, and, in addition, nausea and vomiting.

How Can Plaugue Be Spread?

  • Bubonic plague is spread from animal to animal and from animal to human by the bites of infected fleas.
  • Pneumonic plague can be spread from respiratory droplets of an infected animal or person who may cough or sneeze and spread the droplets that others may inhale.
  • Septicemic plague can occur if the bacteria enter the bloodstream through a break in the skin, or by direct contact with plague-infected tissue or body fluids.

How To Treat Plague

Healthcare providers will be interested in the following steps when considering treatment of a potential patient with plague:

  • As soon as a diagnosis of suspected plague is made, the patient should be isolated, and local and state health departments should be notified.
  • Laboratory work, including blood cultures and examination of lymph node specimens will be conducted, and antibiotics will be prescribed.
  • Persons who have been in close contact with the patient, especially a patient with pneumonic plague, should be identified and evaluated.

More information about plague, its cause, symptoms, treatment and prevention can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.