What is a Plague?


Plague is a bacterial infection that is extremely dangerous and serious. This condition is transmitted to human beings by fleas. It is a highly contagious infection. Historically, plague was known as “Black Death” and was responsible for killing millions of people throughout Europe in the 14th century.

Yersinia pestis is the specific bacterium that causes plague. It is most prevalently found in Africa, the United States, and Asia among small rodents. There are numerous ways that the plague infection can be transmitted. The most common, of course, is through fleas. However, direct contact with infected animals can also cause plague transmission. When the infection gets into the lungs, it can also be transmitted through inhalation which means that human-to-human transmission is also possible.

The plague occurs in three forms. These three forms are bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic plague. Bubonic is the more common type and involves infection in the lymphatic system. The septicemic plague occurs when the infection moves into the blood, and finally, pneumonic plague is in the respiratory system.

What are the Symptoms of a Plague?

There are numerous symptoms of plague that a person can experience. Swollen lymph nodes are a common symptom of plague, particularly bubonic plague. The swelling can be about the size and shape of an egg and may occur in lymph nodes in the neck, groin, or armpits. Other signs and symptoms of bubonic plague include fever, muscle aches, and fatigue (essentially, flu-like symptoms).

Septicemic plague can cause many different symptoms as well including chills, fever, and weakness. It could also cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, gangrene in the extremities, and bleeding under the skin or in the mouth, rectum, or nose. Pneumonic plague can cause difficulty breathing as well as a severe cough, possibly coughing up blood. Nausea, vomiting, fever, and headache can also be symptoms.

How is Plague Treated?

Plague is a treatable condition, though it still has a high mortality rate of between 30 and 60 percent even today. Early treatment with powerful prescription antibiotics in a hospital setting is necessary to overcome the plague. Supportive therapy and other treatments may also be necessary to deal with symptoms or side effects like gangrene or high fevers. People who come into contact with infected animals or people who have the pneumonic form of the plague may also benefit from preventive antibiotic treatment to prevent the infection from occurring.

Last Reviewed:
October 08, 2016
Last Updated:
August 28, 2017