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Key Information About Bubonic Plague

Updated on June 10, 2021
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Srikanth is passionate about helping people improve their quality of life.


Also known as black death, bubonic plague is the commonest form of plague in human beings.

Its name comes from the swollen lymph nodes, where infected cells, known as buboes, tend to congregate.

Bubonic plague swept through Asia and Europe in the 14th century. It reached Europe in the late 1340s, killing around 25 million people.

Although plague is now rare in Europe, it recently sickened more than 10,000 people in Congo over a decade.

Bubonic plague became known as the “black death” because infected people often developed buboes, swollen lymph nodes in the groin and neck, that turned black.


Bubonic plague is one of the three types of plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It infects the lymphatic system (which is a part of the immune system).

This most common form of plague is transmitted to human beings from infected rats by the oriental rat flea.

In some circumstances, infection can occur via open wounds that are exposed to infected material through handling and other direct contact.

"Trash and food waste attracts rats. An out-of-control rat population can even lead to the spread of dangerous strains of salmonella and bubonic plague. It does pose a public health risk" said infectious disease specialist Dr. Jeffrey Klausner of UCLA.


Humans can become infected with plague through contact with sick animals or through bites from infected fleas.

— Dr. Alexia Harrist, MD, PhD. State Health Officer and State Epidemiologist. WDH.


Bubonic plague causes buboes, which are swollen and painful lymph nodes under the arms, in the neck, or in the groin. This is the main symptom of this epidemic.

Sudden onset of fever and chills, headache, nausea, fatigue or malaise, and muscle aches are other symptoms of this serious disease. Symptoms usually occur within 2–6 days of exposure.

Bubonic plague symptoms in pets can include enlarged lymph glands, swelling, fever, chills, tiredness, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.



Bubonic plague is a dangerous disease if left untreated. Without medical attention, it is almost always fatal.

This infectious disease can kill inside a day albeit it usually takes longer.

World Health Organization reports that of the 3,248 cases recorded between 2010 to 2015, there were 584 deaths.

With medical advancements today, the disease can be treated. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment reduces the risk of death.

Several classes of antibiotics are effective against this disease. Aminoglycosides (like streptomycin and gentamicin), tetracyclines (especially doxycycline), and fluoroquinolone ciprofloxacin are some antibiotics used to treat this deadly medical condition.


Since Y. pestis is capable of developing antibiotics resistance, the plague could one day re-emerge as a worldwide concern, and even has the potential to become a bio-weapon.


Some plague vaccines have been developed, but they are not available to the general public. The World Health Organization does not recommend vaccination, except for high-risk groups, like health care workers.

The street litter is a big attraction for rats and, naturally, poses a public health risk, infectious disease specialist Dr Jeffrey Klausner.

Reduce rodent habitat around your house, office, and recreational areas. Remove rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood, and possible rodent food supplies, like pet food. Make your building rodent-proof.

Avoid unnecessary exposure to rodents. Avoid contact with rodent carcasses. Avoid locations with unexplained rodent die-offs.

The small town of Bulyan-Ulgii in Mongolia faced a quarantine in May 2019 after a couple died of bubonic plague. The couple contracted the disease after consuming the raw kidney of a marmot.

Is your home rodent-proof?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Srikanth R


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    • srirad0675 profile imageAUTHOR

      Srikanth R 

      2 years ago

      Yes, it is a killer.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      Oh, this is a horrible disease. I've seen programmes about this on the Internet.


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