Plague

1 What is Plague?

A serious bacterial infection that is transmitted by fleas is called plague, also known as Black Death during medieval times. If it not treated as soon as possible with medications can be fatal and today it occurs in less than 5,000 people a year.

Yersinia pestis is the organism that causes plague and can be seen in small rodents found in semirural or rural areas of United States, Asia and Africa. It can be transmitted in people who are handling infected animals or people who are bitten by fleas that have fed on infected animals.

Buboes are the most common plague and can cause swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck, groin or armpits while the deadliest but rare form of plagues can spread from person to person and can affect the lungs.

2 Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of plague vary depending on their types which are bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic.

For Bubonic

The most common and develops within a week after you were bitten.

It can be:

  • like the size of the chicken egg,
  • found in your armpit, neck or groin,
  • tender and warm to touch.

This type is named after buboes meaning swollen lymph nodes and other symptoms include:

  • muscle aches,
  • headache,
  • sudden fever or shills,
  • malaise or fatigue.

For Septicemic plague

When the bacteria is already multiplying in your bloodstream. Symptoms of this include:

  • extreme weakness,
  • fever and chills,
  • shock,
  • abdominal pain,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • blackening or death of your tissue (gangrene) like in your toes, nose or fingers,
  • bleeding from your mouth, rectum, and nose or under your skin.

For Pneumonic plague – this is the type that can affect your lungs and can be fatal. This can spread through cough droplets and the symptoms are:

  • difficulty breathing,
  • coughing with blood,
  • weakness,
  • high fever,
  • headache,
  • nausea or vomiting.

This can also cause shock and respiratory failure just within two days of being infected. Consult a physician if suddenly you feel sick and you recently went to a place that is known to have plague such as Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and California.

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3 Causes

Yersinia pestis is the organism that causes plague when the flea that bit you has recently fed on infected animals such as:

  • squirrels,
  • rats,
  • chipmunks,
  • prairie dogs,
  • rabbits.

Dogs and cats can become infected from flea bites if they ate from infected rodents while people can become infected if you have a break on your skin that comes in contact with blood from an infected animal.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Consult your doctor if you think you have plague and he may refer you to a doctor of infectious disease to receive a diagnosis.

Before going to the hospital, make sure to wear surgical mask to avoid infecting other people.

Ask a family member or close friend to accompany you but be sure that he/she is also wearing a surgical mask. Bring a notebook and there you can write the symptoms that you are experiencing and if you recently traveled in a place where plague is common.

You can also write down the medications, supplements and vitamins that you are taking.

Some of the questions that you can ask your doctor include:

  • What is causing my symptoms?
  • What are the other possible causes?
  • Are they occasional or continuous? How severe are they?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What treatments would you recommend?
  • Do I need to be isolated?
  • Do I have any restrictions that I will need to follow?

Your doctor will also ask you questions such as:

  • When did you begin experiencing the symptoms?
  • Have you recently gone to a place that is common for plague?
  • Have you recently handled cats or dogs?
  • Are you aware that you have been bitten by fleas?

Your doctor may also do some tests that will be taken from:

  • buboes – this is done by a needle to take a fluid sample,
  • blood – if you have septicemic plague it can be seen in your bloodstream,
  • lungs – this is done using endoscopy wherein a thin and flexible tube will be inserted in your mouth or nose up to your throat to get a fluid to check for pneumonic plague.

5 Treatment

Plague can be treated by antibiotics.

If you are diagnosed with plague, your doctor may admit you to a hospital and they will give you antibiotics such as:

  • Ciproflaxin (Cipro),
  • Gentamicin,
  • Doxycycline (Vibramycin),
  • Levofloxacin (Levaquin) which was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

6 Prevention

Some of the preventive measures that you can take if you are in an area where plague is common include:

  • if you have pets, keep them free from having fleas by using flea-control products,
  • keep your house free from rodents by removing potential nesting areas and remove your pet’s food,
  • use insect repellent,
  • wear gloves when handling an infected animal so there will be no direct contact.

Scientists are still developing a vaccine for plague but antibiotics can help in treating plague.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

The most common homeopathic remedies for plague include:

  • Arsenicum album: for nausea and headache, abdominal pain and fever,
  • Crotalus horridus: for bleeding in your mouth,
  • Nitricum acidum: for chronic coughing.

Consult a professional if you are going to take homeopathic remedies.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Consider some of these lifestyle tips so you will not be infected by plague:

  • eliminate shelter and food for rodents in your house or work place,
  • your pets should be flea free by asking a veterinarian about flea control,
  • use insect repellents,
  • avoid infected or dead animals,
  • take extra precautions if you are going to travel to places where plague is common.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with plague.

Only a few thousand people have plague each year but you will be at risk:

  • if you are going to travel to a place where plague is common: In rural and semirural areas with poor sanitation or overcrowded population. The most common place is in Africa;
  • your occupation: Veterinarians and their assistants who handle animals that might have plague;
  • your hobbies: Hiking, hunting or camping in places where plague is common.

Complications of plague are:

  • Gangrene: Blood clots in your fingers or toes which disrupt the blood flow that can lead to amputation,
  • Meningitis: Inflammation of the membranes in your spinal cord and brain,
  • Death: If you did not receive the proper treatment.
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