Plague


Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is the plague?

Plague, also referred to as the black plague, is a zoonotic disease that is caused by Yersinia pesti, a type of bacteria. This disease affects humans as well as other animals. Rodent fleas – which are found in rats

mice, squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, chipmunks, voles – are normally the vectors that transmit this disease from animals to humans. However, humans also contract this disease when handling an infected animal.

Plague is one of the oldest diseases known to man. During the middle ages in Europe, the plague was responsible for the deaths of millions of people. Today, plague can be treated effectively by antibiotics, although it can still be life-threatening in the absence of prompt treatment.  Many cases of plague are still prevalent in parts of Asia and Africa.

A brief history

The first recorded plague pandemic was known as the Justinian Plague. It happened in the 6th century and was named after Byzantine emperor Justinian I. It killed over 25 million people over a period of two hundred years (541 C.E to 741 C.E)

The second pandemic – the infamous “Black Death” or the Great Plague – originated in China in 1334 C.E. It then spread to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) before reaching Europe, where it killed 60% of the population.

The third pandemic – also known as the Modern Plague – again in China in the 1860s and appeared in Hong Kong by 1894. It then spread to port cities around the world by rats on ships. It caused approximately 10 million deaths. However, during the third pandemic, scientists were also to determine that plague was caused by a bacterium and was transmitted via flea bites.

After antibiotics were introduced in the 1940s, the mortality rates of plague dramatically went down. Today, less than 200 people die from the plague, which is still prevalent in rural areas of Africa.

Types of plagues

They are three types of plagues

Bubonic plague

This is the most common type that affects a person’s lymphatic system. It gets in name owing to the fact that it causes buboes, swollen and painful lymph nodes under the arms, in the neck, or in the groin. This type is usually transmitted when a person is bitten by an infected rodent or a flea. In some rare cases, a person may get this disease when he/she comes in contact with an infected person. The bacteria spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

The most common form of plague is the bubonic plague. It’s usually contracted when an infected rodent or flea bites you. In very rare cases, you can get the bacteria from material that has come into contact with an infected person.

Septicemic plague

This type is more dangerous compared to the bubonic plague. Septicemic plague happens when the bacteria move into a person’s bloodstream. The most common symptoms include

  • Bleeding from mouth, nose, bottom, under the skin
  • Blackened skin
  • Stomach ache
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Pneumonic plague

This is the rarest type and is caused when the bacteria reach a person’s lungs. This type is very contagious as it is spread when the infected person coughs or sneezes. Some symptoms of this disease include

  • Persistent coughing
  • Breathing problems
  • Nausea and vomiting

Causes

Plague is more prevalent in areas with overcrowding, poor sanitation and large populations of rodents (especially rats). It

Yersinia pesti can be transmitted to humans in the following ways

Flea bites

This disease is usually transmitted to people when they are bitten by an infected flea. This happens when a plague outbreak among animals results in the death of many rodents (which are the fleas’ primary host). This prompts the fleas to look at alternate sources of blood. A person or an animal that visits places, where rodents have recently died, are at a high risk of being bitten and infected by fleas.

Contact with contaminated meat

If a person comes in contact with a plague-infected animal, he/she may get the plague. This usually happens when a person comes in direct with an infected animal’s tissue or fluids. For example, a butcher skinning an infected animal without using proper precautions could become infected with the plague.

Contact with infected animals

Cats are very susceptible to plague due to their tendency to hunt and consume rodents. An infected cat can transmit plague via to their owners via droplets. In USA, cats are responsible for many cases of plagues

Droplet infection

This happens when a person breathes in air contaminated with cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person. This, however, only happens when a person comes in direct contact with an infected person. This type of transmission is usually rare in developed countries but is still prevalent in developing countries.

Symptoms

After an incubation period of 2-6 days, most infected people develop flu-like symptoms. The other symptoms of plague are varied depending on the type of infection.

Bubonic plague

Bubonic plague is always characterized by painful, swollen lymph glands, called buboes, which appear in the groin, armpits, neck. Other symptoms may include

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • General weakness
  • Seizures

Septicemic plague

The symptom of septicemic plague usually starts after the onset of the Bubonic plague. Sometimes, the septicemic plague may be fatal even before the symptoms appear. These symptoms can include

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Extreme weakness
  • Bleeding (blood may not be able to clot)
  • Shock
  • Blackening of skin

Pneumonic plague symptoms

Pneumonic plague symptoms usually appear very quickly, sometimes even a day after infection. Some of the symptoms may include

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Overall weakness
  • Blood in sputum

Complications

Plague may cause the following complications

Death: Although the mortality rate of plague has drastically reduced since the development of antibiotics, people who do not receive prompt medical treatment die.

Gangrene: Gangrene is a condition where tissues of the body die due to lack of blood supply. This often happens in the hands and feet. Plague causes blood clots in the tiny blood vessels of the hands and feet. This results in tissue blackening. Tissues affected with gangrene generally need to be amputated.

Meningitis: This is a serious condition which is characterized by the inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord. Although rare, plague causes meningitis.

Diagnosis

Plague can be diagnosed in the following ways

  • Blood test: The doctor will take a blood sample from the suspected patient and analyze it for the presence of Yersinia pesti.
  • Analysis of lymph node fluids: The doctor may also take insert a needle into one of the infected patient’s lymph nodes and analyze it to determine the presence of Yersinia pesti.
  • Bronchoscopy: This is a procedure that lets doctors look at the patient’s lungs and air passages for any signs of pneumonic plague infection.

Treatment

Plague is a life-threatening disease that requires immediate medical care. With no proper treatment, bubonic plague can turn into septicemic plague and pneumonic plague very quickly. A person can die within 24 hours after the appearance of the first symptom. Treatment includes

Antibiotics: Plague is primarily treated by the administration of strong antibiotics such as gentamicin or ciprofloxacin.  With antibiotics, most people get better within a week or two. However, the course needs to be continued for several weeks even after the symptoms resolve.

Quarantine: People with plague (especially the pneumonic plague) should be isolated from other patients.

Prevention

Plague can be prevented by following these measures.

Controlling the rodent population

Rodents are the main vectors of fleas, which may carry the plague bacteria. You can use poisons or traps but doing so may only prove to be a temporary solution. If you want to get rid of a rodent problem once and for all, you’ll need to seal all potential entry points. You should also always dispose waste properly so rodents are not attracted.

Taking the right measures while handling the meat of potentially infected animals

You should always wear gloves while skinning an animal, especially rabbits or some small game. You may contract plague if your bare skin comes in contact with tissues or blood.

Using insect repellents while going camping or hiking

You should always apply insect repellents on the exposed areas of your skin while doing an outdoor activity like hiking, trekking or camping.

Treating your pets for fleas

As fleas are the vectors of plague, you should treat your pets for fleas as soon as possible. If your pet has the habit of roaming freely, it is more susceptible to getting infected fleas. Such pets should not be allowed to sleep on your bed or couch.

Do dead bodies spread plague?

The body of a recently deceased plague victim can infect people who come in close contact with the body. Hence, care should be taken by the people who prepare the body for burial or cremation. The bacterium will mostly be concentrated in the body fluids.

Facts

  • The plague killed an estimated 100 million people (about one-quarter of the population) during the Middle Ages.
  • In 2003, more than 2,100 human plague cases and 180 deaths were recorded

Facts

  • There are fears that plague bacteria possibly could be used as a bioweapon by terrorists.
  • The last plague epidemic in the urban US was in Los Angeles in 1924/1925

Facts

  • The plague has been described in the Old Testament
  • Mass graves of plague victims were recently discovered in an area of Venice called “Quarantine Island.”

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Dos and Don'ts

Dos
  • Always take your full antibiotics course as recommended by the doctor. Do not stop even after the symptoms get better.
  • Always close your mouth or nose while sneezing or coughing to reduce the risk of spreading it to others.
  • Gets pets regularly checked for fleas
Don'ts
  • Panic as the plague is full treatable disease.
  • Go to plague-infested areas without taking proper precautionary measures.
  • Let pets sleep with you if they have fleas

 

 

 

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Oxalates: How healthy greens can sometimes be bad news for your kidneys Oxalates are compounds present in a majority of healthy foods. However, at times an overconsumption of these could…
The Cabbage Soup Diet: The healthiest way to instant weight loss Cabbage soup diet rapid weight loss diet for those who want to shed those extra pounds in less…
CEA_test
Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) test CEA or carcinoembryonic test detects the presence of CEA antigen in your blood mainly & determines the effectiveness…
anoscopy
Anoscopy Anoscopy is an invasive diagnostic procedure where a small device known as anoscope will be inserted in the…
apolipoprotein a1 test
Apolipoprotein -A1 (APO-A1) Test Apolipoprotein A-I (Apo-A1) constitutes 70% of protein content in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and helps in lipid metabolism.
lipase test
Lipase Test A lipase test is a blood test performed to quantitatively measure the level of the enzyme lipase in…
ureteroscopy
Ureteroscopy Ureteroscopy is the diagnostic procedure which is used for the detection of the kidney stones in addition to…
shiitake mushrooms healthy
What are Shiitake Mushrooms and why should you eat them? Shiitake Mushrooms are well known for their smoky and robust taste. However, did you know they are replete…
Hepatitis A virus infected liver
Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) Total Blood test to look for IgM antibodies to know if you are infected with Hepatitis A virus (HAV),…
lose weight fast
12 easy and instant steps to successful weight loss Do you want to lose weight without losing your mind? Does weight loss always mean saying goodbye to…
nutritional yeast bread
Nutritional Yeast : How can a fungi culture be good for your body? Nutritional yeast: How a simple culture of fungi can transform your skin, digestion, immunity , and much more.…
avocado benefits
Avocado: 15 reasons why this fruit should be a staple in your diet Did you know that the word avocado literally means "testicles". Don't get grossed out as this power-packed fruit…
Bubble Tea: Bubbling with nutrition or a hidden sugar mine? The tapioca pearls present in the tea looks like bubbles and hence the name bubble tea became popular.…
EEG
Electroencephalogram – EEG EEG or electroencephalogram is a diagnostic tool used to access the functioning of neurons and brain activity to…
LFT-test
Liver Function Test – LFT LFT or Liver Function Test is a blood test used to determine the levels of hepatic enzymes which…
Rubella IgM test
Rubella IgM Test The Rubella IgM test is a blood test that is performed to diagnose the presence of the rubella…
free psa test
Free PSA Test The free PSA test is used to detect the level or percentage of free PSA in the body…
HSV-1_IGG
Herpes Simplex Virus I (HSV)-IgG Test Herpes simplex virus I(HSV)-IgG is an Immunoglobulin protein that acts as an antibody & stays in the blood…
alcohol toxic
7 startling facts that will make you quit alcohol today Does drinking really make you friendly and happy? How many calories does a can of cold beer add…
sleep deprivation
Don’t let your sleep deficit grow into memory loss or heart attack Why is sleep important for us? How could sleep deprivation harm you? We bet you didn't know about…
Jack in the box fast food
Jack In the Box : The perils of surging fast food culture in the USA Jack in the Box - How a culture of fast-food can clog your arteries, weaken your heart, fatten…
Cottage cheese: What can you find in this healthy chunk of fresh milk cheese? Love cheese but scared of putting on extra pounds? With cottage cheese, you can get the best of…
Find all the instant ways to get rid of blackheads Blackheads - Not only are they aesthetically unappealing but if left untreated these can cause bacterial overgrowth on…
General adaptation syndrome: Understanding stress, one step at a time The struggle of the body to produce hormones during a stressful situation is the main theme of general…
Sciatica pain relief: Get rid of the pain with these easy daily tips Researchers have claimed that not only heat but icing the area too helps relieve sciatica pain. Find out…
Inversion Therapy: The anti-gravity way of healing chronic back pain Inversion therapy involves suspending a person upside dow using different types of equipment. This works by taking the…
sodium chloride
Halotherapy: How inhaling salt can work wonders for your body Halotherapy is quickly gaining popularity amongst those with respiratory diseases. It has shown promise in its treatment.
How to scrub away stress and fatigue with an Epsom salt bath? Epsom salt is a popular home remedy for many skin ailments. Though there is a lack of scientific…
Balneotherapy jacuzzi
5 things you didn’t know about balneotherapy and how you can do it at home Sauna baths have been popular since a long time. But how much more beneficial can balneotherapy be as…
Vitamin-D-blood-test
25-Hydroxy Vitamin D test 25-hydroxy Vitamin D test is a blood test used to measure the level of vitamin D in the…
phenytoin test
Phenytoin test Phenytoin is a drug that is administered mainly to epilepsy patients. The phenytoin blood test measures the level…
Isagenix diet weight loss
How are BMI and BMR different and what do these numbers mean? BMI and BMR are two important metrics that provide a clear picture of your body's metabolism and also…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
Squid-ink-spaghetti
Squid Ink: A unique food coloring and flavoring agent Want to add a unique black color to your pasta, noodles and ice-creams? How can you use squid…
piles fissure fistula
Allopathy vs homeopathy vs ayurveda treatment for piles, fissures, and fistula Read to know the best form of treatment among allopathy, homeopathy,or ayurveda for piles, fissures, and fistula
Tight phimosis ring
Phimosis Read to know everything about phimosis, types, symptoms, treatment, risks and prognosis for patients with this condition.
Jicama: A fiber-rich tuber for your weight loss goals Pronouced as HEE-kah-ma, Jicama is the "new kid on the block" that has taken the world by the…