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Diseases & Topics


Plague is an infectious disease of animals and humans caused by a bacterium named Yersinia pestis. Wild rodents in certain areas around the world are infected with plague. People usually get plague from being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium, or by handling an infected animal. Plague can also be transmitted person-to-person through respiratory droplets.

Today, modern antibiotics are effective against plague but if an infected person is not treated promptly, the disease is likely to cause illness or death.

Outbreaks in people still occur around the world, including Africa, Asia and South America and are usually associated with infected rats and rat fleas that live in the home. Globally, the World Health Organization reports 1,000 to 3,000 cases of plague every year. Since the last U.S. national outbreak in 1925, human plague has generally occurred as mostly scattered cases in rural areas, particularly in two areas: northern New Mexico/northern Arizona/southern Colorado and California/southern Oregon/far western Nevada.

Typical signs of the most common form of human plague is a swollen and very tender lymph gland, accompanied by pain and often fever, chills, headache and extreme exhaustion.

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