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Plague is a serious bacterial infection that can affect both humans and mammals. This disease is caused by a bacteria called yersinia pestis. Generally, this disease occurs after a person being bitten by an animal is infected by plague bacteria.

Yersinia pestis bacteria live within small animals or insects in rural areas in Asia, Africa, and parts of the United States. When an insect or animal carrying the bacteria bites a human, the human will be exposed to the plague disease. 

During the medieval times, a plague outbreak was the cause of the death of millions of people in Europe. Currently, the epidemic affects at least 5,000 people a year worldwide. 

If not treated immediately, plague can cause death. Generally, plague treatment is similar to other bacterial infections, which is by using antibiotics.

Causes of Plague

Plague disease can occur due to infection from a bacteria called yersinia pestis. These bacteria live in rodents or small insects that can be found in rural areas.

Generally, the animals that can carry the yersinia pestis bacteria are: 

  • Lice
  • Rodents.
  • Squirrels
  • Rabbits
  • Prairie dogs.

This bacteria can also enter the body if the skin comes in contact with blood from an infected animal. Cats, dogs, and other pets can catch plague if they get bitten by fleas or eat infected mice.

Human-to-human transmission can occur when a person inhales the saliva splash of another infected person.

Some people have a higher risk of getting plague diseases: 

  • People that engage in outdoor activities 
  • People that travel to an area affected by plague bacteria.
  • People who have had contact with an animal infected by plague or died from plague.
  • People who live in poor sanitary areas with lots of rodents and insects.
  • People who work as a veterinarian or zoo workers

When to See a Doctor for Plague?

Generally, patients suffering from plague symptoms can consult an internist (internal medicine specialist). Internists will be able to diagnose if the patient has just traveled to an area with the potential to transmit plague and has had contact with animals.

The most common plague symptom that doctors can identify is swollen and painful lymph nodes that develop rapidly. In addition, skin sores caused by tick bites can also be one of the symptoms that the doctor looks for.

Moreover, the doctor may also prescribe a series of tests to determine the presence of the yersinia pestis bacteria in the patient’s body. The test is performed by:

  • Taking blood samples. The yersinia pestis bacteria can be found in the blood through laboratory tests.
  • Taking samples of sputum or mucus fluid from the patient’s airways using a thin tube inserted through the nose to the throat.
  • Taking a sample of fluid from the swollen lymph nodes to identify an infection caused by the yersinia pestis bacteria.

The results from the tests performed to diagnose plague can take one to two days. However, in some cases, doctors can immediately provide a diagnosis without waiting for test results. They can tell simply by the symptoms felt by the patient. 

Symptoms of Plague

The symptoms of plague depend on how the patient is exposed to the bacteria. There are three types of plague with different symptoms.

Bubonic plague or lymphatic plague causes symptoms of fever, headache, chills, and sudden weakness. In addition, patients with lymphatic system plague will also experience swollen lymph nodes.

Lymphatic system plague is the most common type of plague, since it occurs within  the respiratory tract area, where bacteria can easily enter through the mouth and nose.

Meanwhile, septicemic plague usually causes symptoms of fever, extreme weakness, abdominal pain, shock, and bleeding to other organs. Bleeding will also occur under the skin, especially in the mouth and nose area.

In extreme cases, septicemic plague may cause symptoms of blackening and death of tissue, most commonly your fingers, toes and nose.

Pneumonic plague affects the respiratory system and is usually transmitted through droplets of saliva from another infected person. Patients with this type of plague will experience a rapidly developing pneumonia, shortness of breath, chest pain, and cough, with bloody mucus. 

Treatment for Plague 

Plague is a highly dangerous and life-threatening disease. However, this condition can be cured if treated early. The sooner the patient gets medical treatment, the higher the patient’s chances to recover. 

The main treatment for plague symptoms is to take antibiotics. Antibiotics are given for diseases caused by bacterial infections, including plague.

The most common types of antibiotics given to patients of plague are:

  • Gentamicin.
  • Levofloxacin.
  • Chloramphenicol.
  • Ciprofloxacin (Cipro).
  • Moxifloxacin (Avelox).
  • Doxycycline (Monodox, Vibramycin, others).

Patients of plague disease will be asked to undergo inpatient care at the hospital. During treatment, the patient will be given fluids through an IV as well as additional oxygen, especially for patients of pneumonic plague.

Apart from a patient diagnosed with plague, people who come into contact with the patient should also undergo specialised tests and treatment. This is no exception for doctors, nurses, and the patient’s family.

For a certain period of time, the people who come into contact with the patient will be evaluated and observed. They may also be given antibiotics to prevent plague symptoms.

Antibiotics should be consumed by both patients of plague and people suspected of having plague. Consumption of antibiotics must be based on the doctor’s prescription. The patient should also finish the entire course of antibiotics given even after they feel better.

Treatment Costs for Plague

The cost of plague treatment varies, depending on the type, the severity, and the method of treatment. 

For more information regarding the estimated cost of plague treatment, contact Smarter Health.

Prevention of Plague

Plague prevention can be done by maintaining a hygienic environment. If you make a visit to an area that has the potential to spread plague, take preventive measures with routine check-ups and the consumption of antibiotics.

For veterinarians, zoo workers, or other people who come into contact with animals frequently, prevention can be done by constantly wearing gloves before making contact with animals, including pets.

If you have pets at home, bathe the animals regularly and keep them clean to avoid the bacteria that cause plague disease.

Home Remedies for Patients Diagnosed with Plague 

The primary care for plague patients at home is to maintain a clean environment around the house. Every house member should also be tested and be cautious, as the bacteria that cause plague can be contagious.

Furthermore, you should avoid contact with pets for some time. Make sure to have your pets examined to prevent the spread of plague bacteria. 

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