Plague (Black Death)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Steven Doerr, MD
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

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Is it possible to prevent plague? Is there a plague vaccine?

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.

Could plague be used as a biological weapon?

Concerns about plague include the potential for its use as a biological weapon. In fact, Yersinia pestis has a history of being used as a weapon. Historical examples include the catapulting of infected corpses over city walls and dropping infected fleas from airplanes.

REFERENCES:

Kool, J.L. "Risk of Person-to-Person Transmission of Pneumonic Plague." Clin Infect Dis 40.8 (2005): 1166-1172.

Switzerland. World Health Organization. "Plague." <http://www.who.int/topics/plague/en/>.

Switzerland. World Health Organization. "Plague - Madagascar." Nov. 21, 2014. <http://www.who.int/csr/don/21-november-2014-plague/en/>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Plague." Sept. 1, 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/plague/>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/8/2015
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