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The plague is an umbrella term for three different types of bacterial infections all born from the same bacteria: Yersinia pestis. While it may be thought to be a thing of the past, this bacterial infection still occurs in approximately 3,000 people worldwide yearly. This infectious bacterium can be found on six of the seven continents and is transmitted by a wide variety of small rodents. Only Australia does not play home to Yersinia pestis. The rodents transmit the bacterial infection to one another; it is transmitted to humans by way of flea bites once a bite feeds on an infected rodent. When plague is not treated promptly using the right antibiotics, it can be fatal.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Plague

The animals that most commonly transmit this infection are rats, rabbits, squirrels, prairie dogs and chipmunks. When a flea bites one of these infected animals and then bites a human, the human can contract the infection. Another way that the infection can be transmitted is by contact with the blood of an infected animal through a break in the skin.

One form of the plague is pneumonic plague, which can be spread by inhalation of infectious droplets that are coughed into the air by someone who has it.

The complications associated with the plague are extremely serious. The fatality rate for untreated plague is more than 50 percent, and some people who receive treatment can still die if they do not receive the right treatment fast enough. Other serious complications of the plague are Meningitis and Gangrene that can occur if it is not treated quickly or effectively enough. Most people who are treated quickly with antibiotics will survive the plague, but may still experience other complications, which makes treatment so important.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests for Plague

The different types of plague each produce unique symptoms. The Bubonic plague, which is the most common, will typically present itself with buboes or swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, groin and neck. They tend to be the size of a chicken egg and are warm and tender to the touch. Some symptoms of the Septicemic plague are abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea, fever and chills and Gangrene in the extremities. The last type, pneumonic plague,

yields a bloody cough, high fever, difficulty breathing, weakness, nausea and vomiting. Most of these symptoms will progress rapidly, and medical care should be sought immediately.

A physician that suspects that the plague might be present can examine fluids from the body in order to search for the Y. pestis bacteria. If swollen lymph nodes are present, known as buboes, a fluid sample can be taken from them using a needle. A blood test will reveal the Y. pestis bacteria that can determine if Septicemic plague is the culprit. For Pneumonic plague, which is transmitted by way of the lungs, extracting fluid from the lungs can help to reveal presence of the plague in the system.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention of Plague

Someone who has the plague must be moved into an isolation room as soon as possible considering how easily the disease is transmitted. While in isolation, the patient should receive powerful antibiotics. Some examples of antibiotics that might be prescribed include Chloramphenicol, Ciprofloxacin (Cipro), Doxycycline (Vibramycin), Gentamicin or Streptomycin.