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Plague is a serious infectious disease whose pathogen is Yersinia pestis. With the exception of the pneumonic and pharyngeal forms, it is spread by the bite of a flea, often Xenopsylla cheopis. The flea vector (epidemiology) is most often carried by rats, but can also be carried by other animals such as indoor-outdoor cats. Plague in cats is not uncommon in some areas, such as the southwest U.S., and is quite treatable; veterinarians in those areas have a high suspicion for it.

The disease presents in several different. all potentially fatal, ways, all caused by the same organism.[1]

Plague presentations
Plague Type Method of Transmission Organ Affected Symptoms
Bubonic Flea bite or infection through skin Lymph nodes Buboes, or distinctive blue-black skin swellings of lymph glands such as in the axilla (i.e., armpit) or groin. The victim also has a high fever, head and body aches, chills, and exhaustion. In addition to the buboes, there may be pustules, carbuncles, eschar, or papules at the site of the infected flea bite
Septicemic Flea bite or infection through skin Blood stream Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, hypotension, hepatosplenomegaly, delirium, seizures in children, shock, lack of energy, and fever. Rare but also highly lethal, carried in the bloodstream. There are no buboes, although diarrhea will accompany high fever.
Pneumonic Air Lungs The only form transmitted directly between humans. It has abrupt onset with chest pain, cough, difficulty in breathing, high fever, and sputum tinged with blood or pus. It can kill with hours of the onset of symptoms. It is possible to contract this form from cats as well as humans
Pharyngeal Air Pharynx and throat Sore throat, fever, pharyngeal erythema, painful and tender anterior cervical nodes
Meningeal Central nervous system Bubonic plague plus a stiff neck and neurological symptoms

Streptomycin, doxycycline, and chloramphenicol are the usual antibiotics, with streptomycin the drug of choice. Local experience and sensitivity, and preferably laboratory assessments of sensitivity, should guide therapy.

  1. Minnaganti, Venkat R. (May 12, 2006), "Plague", eMedicine, former citation 5