Biological Weapons --

Plague is an infectious bacterial disease affecting both animals and humans.

In the United States, the last urban plague epidemic occurred in Los Angeles in 1924-25. Since then, human plague in the United States has occurred mostly as scattered cases in rural areas. Globally, the World Health Organization reports 1,000 to 3,000 cases of plague every year.

Since reports exist showing mass production and aerosol dissemination of plague have been developed, the readily available of this bacteria in microbe banks around the world, the high fatality rate in untreated cases and the potential for secondary spread, a biological attack with plague is a serious concern. - Johns Hopkins University on behalf of its Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies


nguinal bubo (swollen lymph node) on upper thigh of person with bubonic plague - CDC

Within 1 -6 days after exposure, the first signs of illness show up - fever, headache and weakness, which can lead to shock and death within 2 - 4 days. It takes three major forms depending on what part of the body the disease primarily affects.

Septicemic plague: fever, shaking chills, extreme exhaustion, abdominal pain, shock and bleeding into skin and other organs. Complications of septicemia include septic shock, blood clotting disorder, coma, and meningitis (inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain or spinal chord).

Pneumonic plague: high fever, shaking chills, often cough up blood, have difficulty breathing due to severe pneumonia. Rapid shock and death follow if not treated early

Bubonic plague: enlarged, tender lymph nodes usually in the groin, armpits, or cervical areas - the most readily identifiable symptom of plague - fever, chills and extreme exhaustion

How does it spread?

Prairie dog

It can move from animal to animal and from animal to human by the bites of infected fleas or by handling an infected animal. It can also be transmitted by inhaling the "spray" of infected people or animals cough.

However, person-to-person transmission isn't common and hasn't been seen in the U.S. since 1924.

Wild rodents like ground squirrels, prairie dogs, woodrats, and various mice in the Western US can be infected with plague. Human outbreaks are usually associated with infected rats and rat fleas.

PERSONAL NOTE: It does occur in "civilized" regions of the US. This summer, plague was found in our area and Colorado Springs. It was discovered when residents noticed previously occupied prairie dog villages were suddenly quiet. Health officials took rags on sticks and shoved them down village tunnels to get a sampling. As feared, they tested positive for plague. These massive tunneling systems were subsequently fumigated. As a precaution, where outside pets like Seismo and Taco may be exposed to these carriers, they should be treated with Frontline or similar products.


As soon as a diagnosis is made, the patient should be hospitalized, medically isolated, and local and state health departments should be notified.

Lab work is done to verify the results which include blood cultures and ab exam of lymph node specimens.

Antibiotic drug therapy should begin ASAP - within 24 hours of first symptoms. Streptomycin, tetracycline, and chloramphenicol are highly effective if begun early. Chloramphenicol is specifically indicated in treating plague meningitis.

Specifics on treatment can be found here

Primary preventive measures are reducing the threat of infection in humans in high-risk areas through environmental management, public health education, preventive drug therapy, and vaccines.

Mortality is 50% - 90% in untreated cases and 15% of treated cases. The mortality of untreated pneumonic plague approaches 100%.


Frequently-Asked-Questions About Plague;
Johns-Hopkins University;;
CBS Bioterrorism Interactive;

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