Plague is a bacterial infection that can be deadly. The disease occurs naturally after a bite by an infected flea or from handling or eating an infected animal. Governments have studied the bacteria's use as a germ-warfare weapon. As a weapon, it would be released in the air. There are several types of plague, depending on where the exposure and symptoms occur:
Pneumonic (in the lungs)—from breathing in droplets or as a progression of another type
Bubonic plague (in the lymph nodes)—occurring after a rodent-flea bite
Septicemic plague (a body system-wide infection)—occurring after a rodent-flea bite
Pharyngeal plague (in the throat and nearby lymph nodes)—due to ingesting infected tissue or inhaling large droplets
causes the infection. It is spread by droplets in the air. People can catch pneumonic plague from face-to-face contact with someone who has the disease. Bubonic and septicemic plague, without respiratory complications, are not spread from person-to-person.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for plague include:
Exposure to the bacteria
Contact with rodents
Rodents in the environment
Symptoms depend on the type of plague. They occur in naturally-acquired cases within two to eight days. Plague can progress within a few days and cause
, meningitis, or death. Experts expect the first symptoms after a biological attack would appear within a couple of days. People would be expected to die soon after the first symptoms occurred.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and possible source of exposure, and perform a physical exam. Other cases in the area may alert healthcare workers of the possibility of a bioterrorism attack.
Blood tests to look for indications of an infection
Blood test to detect antibodies to plague bacteria
Examining body fluids using special techniques
Culture of body fluids to check for bacteria
Starting antibiotics early is essential. Any delay greatly increases the risk of death. The drugs are injected in a muscle or given through a vein. Later in treatment, some drugs can be given by mouth. A patient with lung symptoms will be placed in isolation to protect others. Caregivers and visitors should wear a mask, gloves, goggles, and a gown. Lymph nodes may require draining. Cases are reported to public health officials.
Health professionals will monitor the patient for changes in status and take appropriate action. Maintaining adequate heart function, blood pressure, and oxygen supply are of prime importance.
Antibiotics may prevent infection following close contact with someone who has the disease. The drugs should be taken daily while in contact, and for seven days after the last exposure. In addition, the caregiver and patient should wear masks.
Antibiotics may be ordered in the event of a terrorism exposure. People may be placed on the drugs after developing a cough. There would be no warning systems to alert authorities that plague bacteria had been released. The success of an attack would depend on the bacteria's quality and strain, the way it was produced, and weather conditions at the time of release. A vaccine does not exist for pneumonic plague.
Measures to prevent naturally-occurring plague include:
Do not touch dead rodents or sick cats.
Use insecticides around the house.
Eliminate rat habitats near the house.
Do not allow dogs or cats to roam in areas where plague is common.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a