It’s transmitted by fleas that live on rodents and symptoms, which usually appear within one to seven days after infection, include painful, swollen lymph nodes, called bubos, in the groin, armpit or neck areas as well as fever, chills and coughing.
Plague affects humans and other mammals.
Cats, which become sick themselves, can directly infect humans, while hardier dogs may simply carry the fleas back to their owners. People also can become sick by inhaling droplets from the cough of an infected person or animal.
The bacteria persists because low levels circulate among populations of certain rodents, according to the CDC. These infected animals and their fleas serve as long-term reservoirs for the bacteria.
Where can you get the plague?
Plague occurs naturally in rural areas in the western United States, particularly Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. That’s where an average of seven human plague cases are reported each year to the CDC. But significantly more cases occur in parts of Africa and Asia.
“It occasionally spreads to humans when there is direct contact between infected animals or their fleas and man,” he said.
The last urban plague epidemic in the United States occurred in Los Angeles from 1924 through 1925, the CDC said.
How worried should I be?
“The risk of transmission to and explosive outbreaks amongst humans, as happened in the Middle Ages and up to the antibiotic era, is very unlikely at present as the bacterium causing plague remains sensitive to antibiotic treatments,” Dryden told the SMC.
“It is important that we use antibiotics appropriately and sparingly to retain the activity of these important drugs.”
More than 80% of US cases have been the bubonic form, which is the most common form of infection. Untreated bubonic plague can turn into the more serious pneumonic plague, which causes rapidly developing pneumonia after bacteria spread to the lungs.
Is there a vaccine for the plague?
Since different vaccine designs lead to different mechanisms of immunity, the authors conclude that combinations of different types might overcome the limitations of individual vaccines and effectively prevent a potential plague outbreak.
How do you protect yourself and your family?
Key steps for prevention of plague include eliminating nesting places for rodents around your home, sheds, garages and recreation areas by removing brush, rock piles, trash and excess firewood.
Report sick or dead animals to law enforcement or your local health officials; do not pick up or touch them yourself. If you absolutely must handle a sick or dead animal, wear gloves.