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Plague

WHAT IS PLAGUE?
Pneumonic plague is also known as bubonic plague or septicemic plague, and is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. This bacterium is found in rodents and their fleas in many areas around the world. Y. pestis is very sensitive to sunlight and does not survive long outside the host. Research suggests it may survive in the exposed environment for up to an hour.
HOW COMMON IS PLAGUE AND WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Plague is not common, and resembles other severe respiratory illnesses, but develops life- threatening respiratory failure, sepsis and shock.

The first expected signs of illness would be fever, headache, weakness and cough with bloody, sometimes watery sputum. The patient typically experiences fever, exhaustion and rapidly developing shortness of breath, chest pain and cough, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea, often accompanied by nausea. In 2 to 4 days, the illness would lead to septic shock. Without early treatment the fatality rate is very high.

HOW IS PLAGUE DIAGNOSED?
Confirmatory testing for Y. pestis usually takes from 24 to 48 hours; presumptive identification by fluorescent antibody testing takes less than 2 hours.
CAN PLAGUE BE USED AS A WEAPON?
Terrorists with the equipment and skills necessary to grow cultures of the bacterium could possibly grow large quantities. There are no effective environmental warning systems to detect an aerosol of plague bacteria.
IS THERE A TREATMENT FOR PLAGUE?

Yes. There are several antibiotics that can be used to combat plague. Early treatment of infected or exposed individuals is very successful. Antibiotics need to be given within 24 hours of first symptoms.

If plague is diagnosed, all persons who develop a fever or new cough should seek immediate medical treatment from their care provider and promptly begin antibiotic treatment. Persons having household, hospital, or other close contact with persons with untreated pneumonic plague should receive post-exposure antibiotic treatment for 7 days.

IS THERE A WAY TO PREVENT INFECTION?
Vaccine against plague does not prevent the development of primary pneumonic plague, and is not presently available in America.
CAN PLAGUE BE SPREAD FROM PERSON TO PERSON?

Yes. Person-to-person spread occurs through respiratory droplets, which can only infect those who have direct and close (within 6 feet) exposures to an infected individual. Disposable surgical masks may prevent the transmission of plague.

This material has been developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reuse or reproduction of this material is authorized.