Plague Facts (cont.)

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How do physicians diagnose plague?

The diagnosis of plague depends upon identifying Yersinia pestis organisms in a sample of blood or tissue (such as an aspirate from an enlarged lymph node) from the infected patient. Diagnostic tests rely on culturing the organism, demonstrating the surface proteins of the bacteria, or identifying genetic material of the bacteria. Tests to identify the body's antibody response to the infection are also available.

What is the treatment for plague?

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Antibiotics are effective in treating plague. Examples of antibiotics that can be used include ciprofloxacin (Cipro, Cipro XR, Proquin XR), streptomycin, gentamicin (Garamycin), and doxycycline (Vibramycin, Oracea, Adoxa, Atridox). People with plague are very ill and may require additional treatment, including oxygen, respiratory support, and medications to maintain adequate blood pressure. Patients with pneumonic plague must be isolated while in treatment to avoid spreading the infection.

What is the prognosis of plague?

Plague is a very serious illness that is often fatal. About 50% of people with bubonic plague die if their illness is not treated. Pneumonic plague is typically always fatal if untreated. With treatment, about half of people with pneumonic plague will survive. The earlier that antibiotic treatment is given, the better the chance for recovery.

Is it possible to prevent plague?

There is no commercially available vaccine to prevent plague. It's possible to lessen the chance of contracting plague by reducing rodent habitat areas around the home, avoiding contact with wild rodents, and wearing gloves while handling carcasses of potentially infected animals. Use repellent for skin and clothing while outdoors or in areas where exposure to fleas is likely. DEET-containing repellent can be applied on skin or clothing, while permethrin can be applied to clothing. Use flea-control products on pets, and if pets are allowed to roam free in plague-endemic areas (such as the southwestern U.S.), do not allow them to sleep on the bed; this will decrease the chance of transmitting potentially infected fleas. Prophylactic antibiotics should be administered to individuals with known exposure to plague or for those who have come in direct contact with infected tissue or body fluids.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/17/2014

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