United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
What Is Plague?
Plague is a disease caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, affecting humans and other mammals. Humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague.
Plague is infamous for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague. Without prompt treatment, the disease can cause serious illness or death. Presently, human plague infections continue to occur in the western United States, but significantly more cases occur in parts of Africa and Asia.
Plague occurs naturally in the western United States, particularly Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico. The plague bacterium (Yersinia
pestis) is transmitted by fleas and cycles naturally among wild rodents.
Plague can also infect humans and their pets.
How do people get plague?
- Bites of infected fleas
- Touching or skinning infected animals (such as prairie dogs, squirrels,
rats, and rabbits)
- Inhaling droplets from the cough of an infected person or animal (especially sick cats)
Epidemiology of Human Plague in the United States, 1900–2012
Plague Fact Sheet
Child Catches Plague on California Camping Trip
Recommended antibiotic treatment for plague
Begin appropriate therapy as soon as plague is suspected. The drugs of choice are streptomycin or gentamicin, but tetracyclines, fluoroquinolones and chloramphenicol are also effective.
Select one antibiotic from the table below. Duration of treatment is 10 days, or until 2 days after fever subsides. Oral therapy may be substituted once the patient improves.
The regimens listed below are guidelines only and may need to be adjusted depending on a patient’s age, medical history, underlying health conditions, or allergies. Please use clinical judgment.
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Last Updated: 2015-08-14