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Bubonic Plague

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

Bubonic Plague (pronounced as: buːˌbɒnɪk ˈpleɪɡ) is an infectious disease caused by Yersinia pestis is a gram negative, rod-shaped, coccobacillus bacterium (plural Bacteria), normally non motile having no spores. It is an anaerobic organism that can infect humans via the Oriental rat flea. The disease caused by this bacterium is known as plague, which are basically three main forms: Bubonic, Pneumonic and Septicemic.

History of Bubonic plague: The disease Bubonic plague was recognized in the mid of 13th Century, was like a pandemic that was spread across Europe and Asia, and the death caused by this disease was about 180 million (estimated). Here I am not going to give you dates when and where this disease caused death or became epidemic, though WHO (World Health Organisation) says that worldwide up to 3,000 cases of plague are reported every year, mostly in Africa, Asia and South America. Thus we can say that humankind, mammals and other creatures have been living with this bacterium since then.

The symptoms of plague depend on how the patient was exposed to the plague bacteria. The plague has many different clinical forms, but the most common are Bubonic, Pneumonic, and Septicemic.

Bubonic plague: Symptoms of bubonic plague: Flu-like symptoms appear 1 to 8 days after being bitten by rodent (fleas) including sudden onset of fever, shortness of breath, cough, cold, headache, chills, and weakness and one or more swollen and painful lymph nodes (called buboes). This form usually results from the bite of an infected flea. The bacteria multiply in the lymph node closest to where the bacteria entered the human body. If the patient is not treated with suitable antibiotics, medicines, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body mainly lungs, blood.

Pneumonic plague: Fever, shortness of breath, cough, headache, weakness, and a rapidly developing pneumonia with difficulty in breathing, chest pain, cough, and sometimes bloody or watery mucous. Pneumonic plague may develop from inhaling infectious droplets or may develop from untreated bubonic or septicemic plague after the bacteria spread to the lungs. The pneumonia may cause respiratory failure and shock. Pneumonic plague is the most serious form of the disease and is the only form of plague that can be spread from person to person (by infectious droplets).

Septicemic plague: Fever, chills, extreme weakness, abdominal pain, shock, and possibly bleeding into the skin and other organs. Skin and other tissues may turn black and die, especially on fingers, toes, and the nose. Septicemic plague can occur as the first symptom of plague, or may develop from untreated bubonic plague. This form results from bites of infected fleas or from handling an infected animal.

Treatment : It can successfully be treated with antibiotic or group of antibiotics. The best result of antibiotics can be achieved if given within 24 hours of the first symptoms appeared. Though mortality rate is still high about 10% according to WHO.

Vaccine status – available: vaccine type - dead bacteria have been used since 1890 but are less effective against pneumonic plague so that recently live vaccines of an attenuated type and recombination protein vaccines have been developed to prevent the disease. Though in India it is not recommended for the public at large or for those with only casual potential exposures. The vaccine is only recommended for the persons who work as laboratory technicians, scientists and persons are studying infected rodent colonies who are in close contact with Yersinia pestis bacteria.

Prevention is the most important things to do:

· Ensure that your accommodation or camping area is free of rodents.

· Precautions to be taken against the flea bite

· Remove any food sources or potential nesting materials.

· Avoid direct contact with rodents, carnivores who eat rodents, and dead animal tissues.

· Make sure cats and dogs around you do not carry fleas.


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