Does Plague Still Exist?

Mary McMahon

Plague is a bacterial infection passed by fleas infected with Yersinia pestis, and it is believed to be the agent responsible for pandemics such as the Black Death of the 1300s. Many people are surprised to learn that Yersinia pestis is, in fact, still active in the modern day. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, Georgia, document between 1,000 and 2,000 cases of plague each year around the world. Fortunately, modern medical treatments can be used to address the situation and cure the patient, assuming that the infection is caught early enough.

Bubonic plague's symptoms include fever.
Bubonic plague's symptoms include fever.

In some parts of the world, plague is considered to be endemic, meaning that it cannot be eradicated. These areas include China, the American Southwest, the Andes mountains, and parts of Africa. Plague has also been documented in other regions, including the Midwest, Russia, and Southeast Asia. In these regions, citizens are advised to be extremely careful around wild animals such as rats, which can carry infected fleas, and to use proper flea control on their pets to avoid bringing the bacteria into the house. In the Midwest especially, several cases each year are linked to domestic cats.

Swollen lymph nodes in the neck are one symptom of Bubonic Plague.
Swollen lymph nodes in the neck are one symptom of Bubonic Plague.

The vast majority of modern plague cases take the classic form of bubonic plague, which causes swollen lymph nodes that are readily apparent to the observer, forming lumps or buboes under the skin. It is accompanied by chills, fever, headache, and general malaise, and can cause death if untreated. Bubonic plague cannot be passed from person to person, however; a carrier animal, such as a flea, must be present in order for someone else to contract the infection. If treated properly with antibiotics, the patient can make a full recovery.

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A more unusual form is septicemic plague, which occurs when the bacteria infect the bloodstream directly. It can rapidly spread to internal organs, causing internal bleeding, and it is difficult to diagnose. If left untreated, bubonic plague will turn septicemic as the buboes ulcerate and burst. This form also cannot be passed directly from person to person.

The most dangerous form is pneumonic plague, which infects the lungs, and can be passed from the patient to others as he or she breathes. It is also more virulent than other forms, and patients can die before the classic buboes indicating an infection ever appear. Patients who live in or have visited areas where plague is endemic and present with fever, chills, shortness of breath, and bloody phlegm should be examined for pneumonic plague, to rule it out before moving on to testing for other diseases.

Rats can carry fleas that may be infected with the bacteria that cause plague.
Rats can carry fleas that may be infected with the bacteria that cause plague.

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Discussion Comments


i watched a video about it it was pretty disturbing.


I don't know why people are so surprised to know that the plague still exists. It is caused by a virus that rodents and fleas carry, but rodent doesn't just mean rats and mice. Squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits are rodents too and they are found all across the US.

The flea doesn't necessarily have to bite a rat and then go bite a human. A squirrel might be infected from a flea and then might scratch or bite a human and the human will get the virus if it is there. So the possibility of getting the plague is not so small. I'm not surprised that it still exists and it probably always will.


I remember reading about the plague still being diagnosed in Asia and Africa in the past couple of years. I remember it so well because the article said that these places hadn't diagnosed any plague cases in the past 50 years or so.

Just thinking about it is so scary. I still have trouble believing that the Black Death virus we read about in history class is still around and can literally reappear at any time. I'm just glad that we are prepared with antibiotics.

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