Plague – Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Plague is a deadly disease caused due to serious bacterial infection. Yersinia pestis is the organism causing the condition. The bacteria is transmitted to a human by flea bite. In normal cases, Yersinia pestis resides in rodents. You can find the rodents commonly in rural or semirural areas. The fleas become infected when they feed on the rodents. Then, the fleas infect humans with the bacteria when it bites them. You can also suffer from the infection when you handle the infected rodents without any safety precautions. The disease, also known as Black Death is still prevalent in countries like Africa, Asia, and the USA. The disease was the major cause of death in the medieval time. Currently, the disease affects less than five thousand people every year, it is still a problem in several rural areas.

The condition is deadly and without treatment can lead to death. Among the different types, the septicemic and pneumonic forms are more serious. It can cause fatal complications. Read ahead to know more about the deadly disease.

Plague Around The World

Plague Black Death is an epidemic that killed millions of people. The disease has stuck people from the Neolithic period. Do you know about the Neolithic decline? It is a drastic collapse in the population of people living in Eurasia. It occurred approximately in 3000 BC (five and six thousand years earlier). The disease affected people living in the western Eurasian region. The actual cause of the rapid collapse remains inconclusive. But, the discovery of a tomb in Sweden indicates plague as the major cause of death. The tomb consisted of seventy-nine corpses buried within a short time. Scientists discovered fragments of Yersinia pestis strain (the pathogen causing Black Death). The scientists also note the presence of the plasminogen activator gene in the strain. It indicates the pneumonic form of the disease as the cause of death.

Plague Around The World

The Black Death caused one of the most devastating epidemics in the medieval period. The pandemics, also known commonly as Pestilence or Great Plague wiped seventy-five to two hundred million people in Europe. The death occurred from 1347 to 1351 and reduced the population by half. While better awareness and medical care have reduced the risk of developing the disease, still death occurs due to the disease. The outbreaks occur in regions with a large population of infected fleas and rats. Overcrowded living conditions and bad sanitation can also increase the risk of the disease. Today, the outbreak occur mainly in countries like:

  • Africa
  • Peru
  • The democratic republic of Congo
  • Madagascar

Symptoms Linked To Plague

When a person suffers from bacterial infection, the signs and symptoms develop within two to seven days. So, within a few days of acquiring the infection, you develop symptoms. The signs depend on the type of disease. The symptoms on the part of the body according to the classification of the type of Black Death are:

Bubonic Plague

Bubonic Plague
Bubonic Plague

It is the most common form of the disease. You contract it when an infected flea or rodent bites you. In some rare cases, a person can get the infection from the materials used by or has come in contact with an already infected person. The name of the disease comes from the swollen lymph nodes suffering from the infection. The disease affects the lymphatic system and leads to the inflammation of the lymph nodes. You develop the disease in the first week after getting exposed to the infection. The infected buboes have the following features:

  • Affects the neck, armpit or groin region
  • It has the size of a chicken egg
  • The lymph nodes feel firm and tender to touch
  • The other symptoms associated with the condition include:
  • Develop fever and chills suddenly
  • Experience malaise or fatigue
  • Suffer from muscle aches

Septicemic Plague

It is the type of Black Death triggered due to the bacteria entering the bloodstream. The bacteria enter the blood directly and it multiplies. So, your bloodstream has bacteremia. People develop the type when they fail to get treatment for the other two classifications (bubonic and pneumonic). So, people start developing the signs within two to seven days. Unfortunately, by the time the signs develop, it can result in death. The symptoms associated with the condition are:

  • Extreme weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Extreme weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Suffer from bleeding (from under the skin, nose, mouth, or rectum) due to inability to clot
  • The skin turns black due to the death of the tissue (gangrene) in the human extremities like nose, toes, and fingers
  • Shock

Pneumonic Plague

Pneumonic Plague

The specific type of Black Death affects your lungs. While it is the least common type of the disease, it can cause severe and dangerous complications. Unlike other types, it can spread from one infected person to another. It can spread from an infected person via a cough or sneeze droplets. The signs and symptoms associated with the disease appear within a few hours of exposure to the bacteria. The signs that appear quickly within a day include:

Pneumonic plague needs immediate medical attention as it progresses slowly and results in deadly complications. Two days after the exposure, the patient develops respiratory complications and the body can go into shock. So, getting immediate medical attention can prevent severe complications. The condition needs treatment with antibiotics within a day after you see the first signs. Without treatment, the infection can become fatal.

See A Doctor For Plague

Plague is a life-threatening disease. You must never ignore the symptoms as it can develop into something serious. So, if you develop any signs after exposure to rodents/fleas or after a journey to a specific region with the Black Death outbreak, then you need to see a doctor. Getting medical care as early as possible is necessary to avoid any complications. When you observe any of the above-mentioned signs, then you need to inform your doctor about the following:

When you make an appointment, inform the doctor about your doubts. Wear a surgical mask when you visit the doctor or any other area where other people are present. The mask can prevent the spread of disease to others.

Causes Of Plague

Causes Of Plague

Black Death is triggered by Yersinia pestis bacteria. It is transmitted to humans through bites of infected fleas. These fleas feed on infected animals, which results in bacterial infection. The fleas feed on the following animals:

  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Rabbits
  • Squirrels
  • Prairie dogs
  • Voles
  • Chipmunks

You can also get exposed to the bacteria when your skin breaks and comes in contact with the blood of an infected animal. Domestic or pet animals can also become exposed to the bacteria when an infected flea bites it. They can also get infected by eating infected rodents. The less common type of Black Death, pneumonic plague affects the lungs. It spreads when you inhale the bacterial droplets coughed into the air by a sick person or animal.

Risk Factors Linked To Plague

The chances of developing the disease have reduced due the change in the lifestyle of people and better awareness. Only a few thousand people suffer from Black Death every year. But, you can put yourself at risk when you live or travel to a location with a high risk of the disease. Your job and the hobbies you like can also influence the chances of developing the problem. The factors linked to developing the condition are:


The disease outbreak is common in people who stay in a rural or semi-rural area with a huge population. The overcrowding, lack of proper sanitation, and the high population of rodents can make you vulnerable to the disease. So, the greatest number of people affected by the condition reside in Africa. The African island of Madagascar records the highest number of cases. The disease, also transmits to humans living in several parts of South America and Asia. In developed countries like the USA, the disease is rare. But, it affects people living in the western and southwestern states of the country.


People who work in jobs that increase the chances of coming in contact with animals face a high risk of the disease. So, veterinarians and their assistants who have domestic cats and dogs as their patients can become exposed to the bacteria. Individuals working in an area suffering from a plague outbreak can also suffer from the problem.


If you love outdoor activities like hiking, camping or hunting, then you need to maintain caution. Accessing areas with an animal infected by Yersinia pestis can increase your risk of developing the disease. A bite from the infected animal can cause the disease to develop.

Biological Weapon

Using the disease as a biological weapon is one of the main concerns of the disease. History indicates its prior use as a weapon in war. Historical examples suggest infecting people with Yersinia pestis by dropping infected fleas from airplanes and infected corpses over city walls. So, the risk persists.

Complications Associated With Plague

You need to see a doctor immediately when you develop symptoms of the disease. Without prompt medical treatment, you can develop complications like:


People developing the bubonic type of disease need prompt antibiotic treatment to survive. Untreated disease can result in death as it has a high fatality rate.



Without medical attention, the condition causes the development of blood clots in the extremities. So, you can see blood clots in the blood vessels of your toes and fingers. So, it can disrupt blood flow, leading to the death of the tissue. When portions of the toes or fingers die, you need to remove it. Therefore, the doctor suggests amputation.


Black Death can cause inflammation in the brain in rare cases. The inflammation affecting the membranes surrounding the brain as well as the spinal cord is referred to as meningitis.

 Diagnosing Plague

When you suspect Black Death, it is important to visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis. The diagnosis includes checking for the presence of Yersinia pestis in your body. The different tests used to detect the three types of the disease are:

  • To detect the septicemic plague, your doctor suggests blood tests.
  • Checking the sample fluid obtained from the swollen lymph nodes can reveal the presence of bubonic plague.
  • Bronchoscopy is performed to check for the signs of pneumonic plague. Using the test, a sample fluid is extracted from the airways and tested.

All the samples obtained are checked in the laboratory by technicians. You can get the preliminary results within two hours. But, for detailed test reports, you need to wait for 24 to 48 hours.

Once the doctor suspects Black Death, he/she will start treatment immediately without waiting for the confirmation. The antibiotics treatment is provided as early as possible because the disease can progress rapidly. With early intervention, you can see a big change in your recovery.

Treatment Options For Plague

As mentioned several times, Black Death is a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention. Without proper medical care, you face the risk of losing your life. With early intervention, your doctor can ensure a complete recovery. Without treatment the common type of the disease (bubonic) can lead to multiplication of the bacteria in the bloodstream and develop into septicemic or affect the lungs, leading to pneumonic plague. It results in death within a day (24 hours) after the first symptom appears. So, the treatment options include:

Provide Antibiotics

Your doctor prescribes strong antibiotics, which can offer effective results. So, you need to take ciprofloxacin or gentamicin as per the suggestion from your doctor.

Intravenous Fluids

The condition can lead to severe vomiting. It can lead to dehydration and nutritional deficiency. So, you need intravenous fluid to restore the lost fluids from your body.

Breathing Support

In some cases, patients require oxygen to overcome symptoms like shortness of breath. For severe cases, the doctor can suggest breathing support.


Doctors isolate patients suffering from the pneumonic type of the disease. It is because of the high risk associated with spreading to others. Individuals who come in direct contact with such patients also need monitoring. Such people get antibiotics as a preventive measure. Medical personals and caregivers who come in contact with patients need to follow strict precautions to avoid getting the infection or spreading it.

Your doctor continues the treatment for several after the fever resolves. It ensures complete recovery from the disease.

Preventing Plague

You need to understand that no vaccine is available to prevent the disease. While scientists are trying to develop one, you have no effective vaccination currently. With early medical intervention, you can prevent severe complications. if you are at risk of developing the infection, your doctor can suggest taking antibiotics. People living in the outbreak prone area or traveling to such regions need to take the following preventive steps to avoid the infection:

Rodent-Proof Home

If the area you live has a high risk of housing rodents, then try to remove them. You need to spot the potential nesting areas like piles of junks, rock, firewood, or brush and clear them. You must never leave food for your pets in areas with easy rodent access. If you suspect a rodent infestation, then get professional assistance to control it.

Safeguard Your Pets

You need to keep your pets protected from fleas. Take care of their grooming and maintain hygiene. You must also consult with their veterinarian to get flea-control products. Effective products can work best for your pets.

Wear Gloves

You need to protect yourself from bacterial exposure while handling potentially infected animals. So, wear gloves to avoid your skin coming in contact with harmful bacteria.

Use Insect Repellent

You need to supervise your children and pets when you spend quality time outside. It is specifically necessary when you spend time in areas with a large rodent population. You need to use insect repellent with DEET or natural products like Lemon Eucalyptus to avoid infected fleas from coming in contact with your skin.

Limit Free Roaming

If you are living in an area prone to plague outbreaks, then you must restrict the free movement of pets. Limit the access of your bed to pets that roams freely to avoid catching the infection. When your pet becomes sick, seek assistance from the veterinarian immediately.

Manage Plague Outbreak

What can you do when a plague outbreak occurs? The Center for Disease Control suggests tips to manage the outbreak.

Spot And Stop Source Of Infection

You need to identify the most likely source of infection near your region. Spot the areas where humans or animals get exposed to the bacteria. Look for the clustered areas with high death rates of small animals.

Institute Appropriate Control

Your community must undertake appropriate prevention as well as control procedures. It is important to eliminate the infected rodents before it transmits the bacteria to the fleas and new hosts.

Take Steps To Protect Health Worker

Health workers are at risk of getting Black Death. So, information and training are necessary for the workers to prevent and control the disease. Healthcare workers in direct contact with patients suffering from pneumonic plague need to follow safety protocols. So, the patients need to wear safety gear and take chemoprophylaxis along with antibiotics for at least seven days or as long as the workers face the risk of bacterial exposure.

Get Correct Treatment

Proper antibiotics treatments can only avoid severe complications associated with the infection. So, it is important to verify the patients get appropriate antibiotics treatment along with the sufficient local supply of the antibiotics.

Isolate Patients

Pneumonic plague poses the risk of transmission to others. So, patients are shifted to isolated wards to avoid infecting others. It is also essential to provide masks for the patients to reduce their spread.


The pneumonic type of disease needs identification and constant monitoring. They are provided with chemoprophylaxis for seven days. The medicine is also provided for people in the household suffering from the bubonic type of the disease. Specimens of infected people are collected with careful precision and tested in the lab after following the infection, prevention, and control protocols.


People living in areas prone to the Black Death need to wash their hands frequently with soap and water. They can also use alcohol rub to kill the bacteria. You can disinfect larger areas of your home with 10% diluted house bleach (made fresh each day).

Follow Safe Burial Practices

Burying pet animals or people who died due to Black Death must follow safe practices. Avoid spraying of face or chest region of death suspected due to pneumonic type. It is important to cover the area with disinfected absorbent material or soaked cloth.

With early medical intervention, the chances of survival increase. So, people need to get medical assistance within twenty-four hours of experiencing the symptoms. Prompt treatment will reduce the risk of deaths and improve the chances of recovery.


Plague is a serious disease that requires medical attention. Without medical intervention, the condition can become life-threatening. Pneumonic type of disease can often prove fatal without immediate treatment. With proper medical care and attention, people with severe type can survive. With earlier antibiotic treatment, you have better chances of recovery. So, never ignore the symptoms and get immediate medical attention for better chances of survival.

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