The Plague is Tough, Take Care and Stuff

When the word “plague” is mentioned, one can’t help but revert to the most thought of and mentioned “Black Plague” due to its notoriety killing as many as 200 million people between 1346-1353. Plague outbreaks, caused by an infection with the bacteria Yersinia pestis, still occurs today but not on such a grand scale as the Black Plague of the 1300’s., There are three forms of plagues that affect humans and animals in various ways: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. Most cases that occur in the United States are the bubonic form and 1,000-2000 cases are reported worldwide. Fleas are the primary transmission source for plague and their bite can result in either bubonic or septicemic plague. Contact with tissues or body fluids from an infected animal can also result in infection. Once infected with, Y. pestis, lymph nodes become inflamed and cause open pus-filled buboes. In the advanced stages, bacteria may spread to lungs. The pneumonic form of plague is caused when Y. pestis infects the lungs., it can be contracted from untreated bubonic plague or through the inhalation of respiratory droplets from a person experiencing pneumonic plague. Septicemic plague occurs when plague bacteria multiply in the blood resulting either from direct infection or from the effects of bubonic and pneumonic plague.

Bubonic Plague Symptoms

  • Sudden high fever and chills
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Skin sores

Pneumonic Plague Symptoms

  • Cough with bloody mucus
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty/irregular breathing
  • Upset stomach/vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Sudden high fever and chills

Septicemic Plague Symptoms

  • Stomach pain/diarrhea/vomiting
  • Blackening/death of tissue
  • Sudden high fever and chills
  • Bleeding from the mouth, nose, rectum, or under the skin
  • Extreme weakness

Lab testing is required to diagnose plague and treatment includes antibiotics and supportive therapy. To prevent and minimize plague outbreaks, populations should be informed that plague may be in their environment, how to handle flea bites, and advised against the handling of animal carcasses.

Maegan Traveler is an Education Specialist for Education and Institutional Preparedness for the SPECTRE Program.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death
  2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/plague#:~:text=Bubonic%20plague%20is%20the%20most%20common%20form%20of%20plague%20and,is%20called%20a%20'bubo'.
  3. https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/plague/factsheet.asp
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/plague/symptoms-causes/syc-20351291


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