Feared and misunderstood for centuries, the plague is still a threat in many parts of the world. More than 1,000 cases of the plague are reported worldwide each year. There are three types of plague, each caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis:
The disease commonly affects rodents, and is passed to humans via the bite of an infected flea. The disease can also be contracted by ingesting flea feces or by inhaling the bacteria from an infected person's cough. The pneumonic type can be aerosolized as a biological agent.
In the United States, bubonic and pneumonic plague have occurred in California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Among rodents, prairie dogs, rabbits and squirrels are the most common carriers of the plague; domestic cats with the disease can transfer the bacteria to humans through a scratch or bite. Overall, the disease is extremely rare in the United States.
If you notice the above symptoms and have recently been exposed to rodents or fleas, or have recently traveled in the western United States, contact your doctor immediately. Symptoms can occur within hours or up to ten days.
If the disease is treated early with antibiotics, the recovery rate is 95%. For some patients, treatment includes hospitalization with respiratory therapy. Because the disease, particularly the pneumonic form, is contagious, anyone who has come in contact with a person who has the disease is treated with antibiotics as a precaution.
Protect yourself against the disease by minimizing your contact with rodents and fleas.
Rodent-proof your home and yard