Plague (disease)

Plague is a deadly infectious disease caused by the enterobacteria "Yersinia pestis (Pasteurella pestis)". Plague is a zoonotic, primarily carried by rodents (most notably rats) and spread to humans via fleas. Plague is notorious throughout history, due to the unprecedented scale of death and devastation it brought. Plague is still endemic in some parts of the world.


The epidemiological use of the term "plague" is currently applied to bacterial infections that cause "buboes", although historically the medical use of the term plague has been applied to pandemic infections in general. Plague is often synonymous with "bubonic plague" but this only describes one of its manifestations. Other names have been used to describe this disease, such as "The Black Plague" and "The Black Death", the latter is now used primarily to describe the second, and most devastating pandemic of the disease.

Infection and transmission

Bubonic plague is mainly a disease in rodents and fleas ("Xenopsylla cheopis"). Infection in a human occurs when a person is bitten by a flea that has been infected by biting a rodent that itself has been infected by the bite of a flea carrying the disease. The bacteria multiply inside the flea, sticking together to form a plug that blocks its stomach and causes it to begin to starve. The flea then voraciously bites a host and continues to feed, even though it cannot quell its hunger, and consequently the flea vomits blood tainted with the bacteria back into the bite wound. The bubonic plague bacterium then infects a new victim, and the flea eventually dies from starvation. Serious outbreaks of plague are usually started by other disease outbreaks in rodents, or a rise in the rodent population.

In 1894, two bacteriologists, Alexandre Yersin of France and Shibasaburo Kitasato of Japan, independently isolated the bacterium in Hong Kong responsible for the Third Pandemic. Though both investigators reported their findings, a series of confusing and contradictory statements by Kitasato eventually led to the acceptance of Yersin as the primary discoverer of the organism. Yersin named it "Pasteurella pestis" in honor of the Pasteur Institute, where he worked, but in 1967 it was moved to a new genus, renamed "Yersinia pestis" in honor of Yersin. Yersin also noted that rats were affected by plague not only during plague epidemics but also often preceding such epidemics in humans, and that plague was regarded by many locals as a disease of rats: villagers in China and India asserted that, when large numbers of rats were found dead, plague outbreaks in people soon followed.

In 1898, the French scientist Paul-Louis Simond (who had also come to China to battle the Third Pandemic) established the rat-flea vector that drives the disease. He had noted that persons who became ill did not have to be in close contact with each other to acquire the disease. In Yunnan, China, inhabitants would flee from their homes as soon as they saw dead rats, and on the island of Formosa (Taiwan), residents considered handling dead rats a risk for developing plague. These observations led him to suspect that the flea might be an intermediary factor in the transmission of plague, since people acquired plague only if they were in contact with recently dead rats, but not affected if they touched rats that had been dead for more than 24 hours. In a now classic experiment, Simond demonstrated how a healthy rat died of plague after infected fleas had jumped to it from a plague-dead rat.


Bubonic plague

When a flea bites a human and contaminates the wound with regurgitated blood, the plague carrying bacteria are passed into the tissue. "Y. pestis" can reproduce inside cells, so even if phagocytosed, they can still survive. Once in the body, the bacteria can enter the lymphatic system, which drains interstitial fluid. Plague bacteria secrete several toxins, one of which is known to cause dangerous beta-adrenergic blockade.

"Y. pestis" spreads through the lymphatics of the infected human until it reaches a lymph node, where it stimulates severe haemorrhagic inflammation (the root "haem" means "blood" and "haemorrhage" means to bleed) that causes the lymph nodes to expand. The expansion of lymph nodes is the cause of the characteristic "bubo" associated with the disease.

epticemic plague

Lymphatics ultimately drain into the bloodstream, so the plague bacteria may enter the blood and travel to almost any part of the body. In septicemic plague, bacterial endotoxins cause disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), causing tiny clots throughout the body and possibly ischaemic necrosis (tissue death due to lack of circulation/perfusion to that tissue) from the clots. DIC results in depletion of the body's clotting resources, so that it can no longer control bleeding. Consequently, there is bleeding into the skin and other organs, which can cause red and/or black patchy rash and hemoptysis/haemoptysis (coughing up or vomiting of blood). There are bumps on the skin that look somewhat like insect bites; these are usually red, and sometimes white in the center. Untreated, septicemic plague is usually fatal. However, during the plague epidemics many people must have come in contact with the bacteria but survived; otherwise nearly everyone in Europe would have died. Early treatment with antibiotics reduces the mortality rate to between 4 and 15 percent.cite journal
author=Wagle PM
title=Recent advances in the treatment of bubonic plague
journal=Indian J Med Sci
] cite journal
author=Meyer KF
title=Modern therapy of plague
journal=J Am Med Assoc
] cite journal
author=Datt Gupta AK
title=A short note on plague cases treated at Campbell Hospital
journal=Ind Med Gaz
] People who die from this form of plague often die on the same day symptoms first appear.

Pneumonic plague

The pneumonic plague infects the lungs, and with that infection comes the possibility of person-to-person transmission through respiratory droplets. The incubation period for pneumonic plague is usually between two and four days, but can be as little as a few hours. The initial symptoms, of headache, weakness, and coughing with hemoptysis, vomiting blood, are indistinguishable from other respiratory illnesses. Without diagnosis and treatment, the infection can be fatal in one to six days; mortality in untreated cases is 50–90%.cite journal
author=Hoffman SL
title=Plague in the United States: the "Black Death" is still alive
journal=Annals of Emergency Medicine

Other forms

There are a few other rare manifestations of plague, including asymptomatic plague and abortive plague. "Cellulocutaneous plague" sometimes results in infection of the skin and soft tissue, often around the bite site of a flea. "Plague meningitis" can occur in very rare cases of septicemic plague.


Vladimir Havkin, a doctor of Russian-Jewish origin who worked in India, was the first to invent and test a bubonic plague vaccine, [Haffkine, W. M. 1897. Remarks on the plague prophylactic fluid. Br. Med. J. 1:1461] on January 10, 1897

The traditional treatments are:
*Streptomycin 30 mg/kg IM twice daily for 7 days
*Chloramphenicol 25–30 mg/kg single dose, followed by 12.5–15 mg/kg four times daily
*Tetracycline 2 g single dose, followed by 500 mg four times daily for 7–10 days (not suitable for children)

More recently,
*Gentamicin 2.5 mg/kg IV or IM twice daily for 7 days
*Doxycycline 100 mg (adults) or 2.2 mg/kg (children) orally twice daily have also been shown to be effective.cite journal
author=Mwengee W "et al."
title=Treatment of Plague with Genamicin or Doxycycline in a Randomized Clinical Trial in Tanzania
journal=Clin Infect Dis


The earliest (though unvalidated) account describing a possible plague epidemic is found in I Samuel 5:6 of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). In this account, the Philistines of Ashdod were stricken with a plague for the crime of stealing the Ark of the Covenant from the Children of Israel. These events have been dated to approximately the second half of the eleventh century B.C. The word "tumors" is used in most English translations to describe the sores that came upon the Philistines. The Hebrew, however, can be interpreted as "swelling in the secret parts". The account indicates that the Philistine city and its political territory were stricken with a "ravaging of mice" and a plague, bringing death to a large segment of the population.

In the second year of the Peloponnesian War (430 B.C.), Thucydides described an epidemic disease which was said to have begun in Ethiopia, passed through Egypt and Libya, then come to the Greek world. In the Plague of Athens, the city lost possibly one third of its population, including Pericles. Modern historians disagree on whether the plague was a critical factor in the loss of the war. Although this epidemic has long been considered an outbreak of plague, many modern scholars believe that typhus [ [ Plague of Athens ] ] , smallpox, or measles may better fit the surviving descriptions. A recent study of the DNA found in the dental pulp of plague victims, led by Manolis J. Papagrigorakis, suggests that typhoid was actually responsible. Other scientists dispute this conclusion, citing serious methodological flaws in the DNA studyFact|date=September 2007.

In the first century A.D., Rufus of Ephesus, a Greek anatomist, refers to an outbreak of plague in Libya, Egypt, and Syria. He records that Alexandrian doctors named Dioscorides and Posidonius described symptoms including acute fever, pain, agitation, and delirium. Buboes—large, hard, and non-suppurating—developed behind the knees, around the elbows, and "in the usual places." The death toll of those infected was very high. Rufus also wrote that similar buboes were reported by a Dionysius Curtus, who may have practiced medicine in Alexandria in the third century B.C. If this is correct, the eastern Mediterranean world may have been familiar with bubonic plague at that early date. [Simpson, W.J.] [Patrick, A.]

First Pandemic: Plague of Justinian

The Plague of Justinian in A.D. 541–542 is the first known attack on record, and marks the first firmly recorded pattern of bubonic plague. This outbreak is thought to have originated in Ethiopia. The huge city of Constantinople imported massive amounts of grain, mostly from Egypt, to feed its citizens. The grain ships were the source of contagion for the city, with massive public granaries nurturing the rat and flea population. At its peak the plague was killing 10,000 people in Constantinople every day and ultimately destroyed perhaps 40% of the city's inhabitants. It went on to destroy up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean.

In A.D. 588 a second major wave of plague spread through the Mediterranean into what is now France. It is estimated that the Plague of Justinian killed as many as 100 million people across the world. [ [ The History of the Bubonic Plague] ] [ [ Scientists Identify Genes Critical to Transmission of Bubonic Plague] ] It caused Europe's population to drop by around 50% between 541 and 700. [ [ An Empire's Epidemic] ] It also may have contributed to the success of the Arab conquests. [ [ Justinian's Flea] ] [ [ The Great Arab Conquests] ] An outbreak of it in the A.D. 560s was described in A.D. 790 as causing "swellings in the the manner of a nut or date" in the groin "and in other rather delicate places followed by an unbearable fever". While the swellings in this description have been identified by some as buboes, there is some contention as to whether the pandemic should be attributed to the bubonic plague, "Yersinia pestis", known in modern times.

econd Pandemic: Black Death

approximately 1/8th of its population, from around 80 million to 70 million (mortality rates tended to be correlated with population density so Africa, being less dense overall, had the lowest rate). This makes the Black Death the largest death toll from any known non-viral epidemic. Although accurate statistical data does not exist, it is thought that 1.4 million died in England (1/3 of England's 4.2 million people), while an even higher percentage of Italy's population was likely wiped out. On the other hand, Northeastern Germany, Bohemia, Poland and Hungary are believed to have suffered less, and there are no estimates available for Russia or the Balkans. It is conceivable that Russia may not have been as affected due to its very cold climate and large size, hence often less close contact with the contagion.

The Black Death contributed to the destruction of the feudal system in Medieval Time. As more slaves and workers died, there were fewer people to work for the nobles and they had to give higher wages to the workers willing to work on the nobles' lands. The Black Death also killed many great kings and nobles. In its aftermath, the Black Death may also have favoured the use of more advanced farming tools as a smaller workforce was available and plots grew larger as a result of the population loss.

The Black Death continued to strike parts of Europe sporadically until the 17th century, each time with reduced intensity and fatality, suggesting an increased resistance due to genetic selection. Some have also argued that changes in hygiene habits and efforts to improve public health and sanitation had a significant impact on the falling rates of infection.

Nature of the disease

In the early 20th century, following the identification by Yersin and Kitasato of the plague bacterium that caused the late 19th and early 20th century Asian bubonic plague (the Third Pandemic), most scientists and historians came to believe that the Black Death was an incidence of this plague, with a strong presence of the more contagious pneumonic and septicemic varieties increasing the pace of infection, spreading the disease deep into inland areas of the continents. It was claimed that the disease was spread mainly by black rats in Asia and that therefore there must have been black rats in north-west Europe at the time of the Black Death to spread it, although black rats are currently rare except near the Mediterranean. This led to the development of a theory that brown rats had invaded Europe, largely wiping out black rats, bringing the plagues to an end, although there is no evidence for the theory in historical records. Some historians suggest that marmots, rather than rats, were the primary carriers of the disease. [ [ The Shifting Explanations for the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague in Human History ] ] The view that the Black Death was caused by "Yersinia pestis" has been incorporated into medical textbooks throughout the 20th century and has become part of popular culture, as illustrated by recent books, such as John Kelly's "The Great Mortality".

Many modern researchers have argued that the disease was more likely to have been viral (that is, not bubonic plague), pointing to the absence of rats from some parts of Europe that were badly affected and to the conviction of people at the time that the disease was spread by direct human contact. According to the accounts of the time the black death was extremely virulent, unlike the 19th and early 20th century bubonic plague. Samuel K. Cohn has made a comprehensive attempt to rebut the bubonic plague theory. [cite book
last = Cohn
first = Samuel K.
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe
publisher = A Hodder Arnold
location =
pages = 336
url =
isbn= 0-340-70646-5
] In the Encyclopedia of Population, he points to five major weaknesses in this theory:
*very different transmission speeds — the Black Death was reported to have spread 385 km in 91 days in 664, compared to 12-15 km a year for the modern Bubonic Plague, with the assistance of trains and cars
*difficulties with the attempt to explain the rapid spread of the Black Death by arguing that it was spread by the rare pneumonic form of the disease — in fact this form killed less than 0.3% of the infected population in its worst outbreak (Manchuria in 1911)
*different seasonality — the modern plague can only be sustained at temperatures between 50 and 78 °F (10 and 26 °C) and requires high humidity, while the Black Death occurred even in Norway in the middle of the winter and in the Mediterranean in the middle of hot dry summers
*very different death rates — in several places (including Florence in 1348) over 75% of the population appears to have died; in contrast the highest mortality for the modern Bubonic Plague was 3% in Mumbai in 1903
*the cycles and trends of infection were very different between the diseases — humans did not develop resistance to the modern disease, but resistance to the Black Death rose sharply, so that eventually it became mainly a childhood diseaseCohn also points out that while the identification of the disease as having buboes relies on accounts of Boccaccio and others, they described buboes, abscesses, rashes and carbuncles occurring all over the body, the neck or behind the ears. In contrast, the modern disease rarely has more than one bubo, most commonly in the groin, and is not characterised by abscesses, rashes and carbuncles. cite encyclopedia
title = Black Death
encyclopedia =Encyclopedia of Population
volume = 1
pages = 98-101
publisher = Macmillan Reference
id = ISBN 0-02-865677-6

Researchers have offered a mathematical model based on the changing demography of Europe from 1000 to 1800 AD demonstrating how plague epidemics, 1347 to 1670, could have provided the selection pressure that raised the frequency of a mutation to the level seen today that prevent HIV from entering macrophages that carry the mutation (the average frequency of this allele is 10% in European populations).cite journal
author = Duncan Chris
title = Reappraisal of the historical selective pressures for the CCR5-Δ32 mutation
journal = Journal of Medical Genetics
year = 2005
volume = 42
pages = 205–208
url =
pmid = 15744032
doi = 10.1136/jmg.2004.025346
] It is suggested that the original single mutation appeared over 2,500 years ago and that persistent epidemics of a haemorrhagic fever struck at the early classical civilizations.

Third Pandemic

The Third Pandemic began in China in 1855, spreading plague to all inhabited continents and ultimately killing more than 12 million people in India and China alone. Casualty patterns indicate that waves of this pandemic may have come from two different sources. The first was primarily bubonic and was carried around the world through ocean-going trade, transporting infected persons, rats, and cargos harboring fleas. The second, more virulent strain was primarily pneumonic in character, with a strong person-to-person contagion. This strain was largely confined to Manchuria and Mongolia. Researchers during the "Third Pandemic" identified plague vectors and the plague bacterium (see above), leading in time to modern treatment methods.

Plague occurred in Russia in 1877–1889 in rural areas near the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea. Efforts in hygiene and patient isolation reduced the spread of the disease, with approximately 420 deaths in the region. Significantly, the region of Vetlianka in this area is near a population of the bobak marmot, a small rodent considered a very dangerous plague reservoir. The last significant Russian outbreak of Plague was in Siberia in 1910 after sudden demand for Marmot skins (a substitute for Sable) increased the price by 400 percent. The traditional hunters would not hunt a sick Marmot and it was taboo to eat the fat from under the arm (the axillary lymphatic gland that often harboured the plague) so outbreaks tended to be confined to single individuals. The price increase, however, attracted thousands of Chinese hunters from Manchuria who not only caught the sick animals but ate the fat which was considered a delicacy. The plague spread from the hunting grounds to the terminus of the Chinese Eastern Railway and then followed the track for 2,700 km. The plague lasted 7 months and killed 60,000 people.

The bubonic plague continued to circulate through different ports globally for the next fifty years; however, it was primarily found in Southeast Asia. An epidemic in Hong Kong in 1894 had particularly high death rates, 90% [ cite journal
last = Pryor
first = E.G.
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Great Plague of Hong Kong
journal = Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
volume = 1975
issue =
pages = 69
publisher = Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Hong Kong Branch (Hong Kong Branch)
location = Hong Kong
date = 1975
url =
doi =
id =
accessdate =
] . As late as 1897, medical authorities in the European powers organized a conference in Venice, seeking ways to keep the plague out of Europe. The disease reached the Republic of Hawaii in December of 1899, and the Board of Health’s decision to initiate controlled burns of select buildings in Honolulu’s Chinatown turned into an uncontrolled fire which led to the inadvertent burning of most of Chinatown on January 20, 1900 according to the [ Star Bulletin's Feature on the Great Chinatown Fire] . Plague finally reached the United States later that year in San Francisco.

Although the outbreak that began in China in 1855 is conventionally known as the Third Pandemic, (the First being the Plague of Justinian and the second being the Black Death), it is unclear whether there have been fewer, or more, than three major outbreaks of bubonic plague. Most modern outbreaks of bubonic plague amongst humans have been preceded by a striking, high mortality amongst rats, yet this phenomenon is absent from descriptions of some earlier plagues, especially the Black Death. The buboes, or swellings in the groin, that are especially characteristic of bubonic plague, are a feature of other diseases as well.

Plague as a biological weapon

Plague has a long history as a biological weapon. Historical accounts from ancient China and medieval Europe detail the use of infected animal carcasses, such as cows or horses, and human carcasses, by the Xiongnu/Huns, Mongols, Turks, and other groups, to contaminate enemy water supplies. Han Dynasty General Huo Qubing is recorded to have died of such a contamination while engaging in warfare against the Xiongnu. Plague victims were also reported to have been tossed by catapult into cities under siege.

During World War II, the Japanese Army developed weaponised plague, based on the breeding and release of large numbers of fleas. During the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, Unit 731 deliberately infected Chinese, Korean, and Manchurian civilians and prisoners of war with the plague bacterium. These subjects, termed "maruta", or "logs", were then studied by dissection, others by vivisection while still conscious. Members of the unit such as Shiro Ishii were exonerated from the Tokyo tribunal by Douglas MacArthur but twelve of them were prosecuted in the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials in 1949 during which some admitted having spread Bubonic plague within a 36-km radius around the city of Changde. [Daniel Barenblatt, "A plague upon Humanity", HarperCollns, 2004, pp.220-221]

After World War II, both the United States and the Soviet Union developed means of weaponising pneumonic plague. Experiments included various delivery methods, vacuum drying, sizing the bacterium, developing strains resistant to antibiotics, combining the bacterium with other diseases (such as diphtheria), and genetic engineering. Scientists who worked in USSR bio-weapons programs have stated that the Soviet effort was formidable and that large stocks of weaponised plague bacteria were produced. Information on many of the Soviet projects is largely unavailable. Aerosolized pneumonic plague remains the most significant threat. The plague can be easily treated with antibiotics, thus a widespread epidemic is highly unlikely in developed countries.

1994 Epidemic in Surat, India

In 1994, there was a pneumonic plague epidemic in Surat, India that resulted in 52 deaths and in a large internal migration of about 300,000 residents, who fled fearing quarantine [cite web
title = Pneumonic Plague Epidemic in Sural
publisher = Association of American Geographers
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-26
] .

A combination of heavy monsoon rain and clogged sewers led to massive flooding which resulted in unhygienic conditions and a number of uncleared animal carcasses. It is believed that this situation precipitated the epidemic. [cite web
title = Surat: A Victim of Its Open Sewers
publisher = New York Times
date = September 25, 1994
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-26
] . There was widespread fear that the flood of refugees might spread the epidemic to other parts of India and the world, but that scenario was averted, probably as a result of effective public health response mounted by the Indian health authorities [cite web
title = With Old Skills and New, India Battles the Plague
publisher = New York Times
date = September 29, 1994
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-26
] .

Much like the Black Death that spread through medieval Europe, some questions still remain unanswered about the 1994 epidemic in Suratcite web
title = Plague's Origins A Mystery
publisher = New York Times
date = March 14, 1995
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-26
] .

Initial questions about whether it was an epidemic of plague arose because the Indian health authorities were unable to culture "Yersinia pestis", but this could have been due to poor laboratory procedures.Yet, there are several lines of evidence strongly suggesting that it was a plague epidemic: blood tests for Yersinia were positive, a number of individuals showed antibodies against Yersinia and the clinical symptoms displayed by the affected were all consistent with the disease being plague [cite web
title = The Surat Plague and its Aftermath
publisher = Godshen Robert Pallipparambil
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-26
] .

Other Contemporary cases

Two non-plague Yersinia - "Yersinia pseudotuberculosis" and "Yersinia enterocolitica" - still exist in fruit and vegetables from the Caucasus Mountains east across southern Russia and Siberia, to Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and parts of China; in Southwest and Southeast Asia, Southern and East Africa (including the island of Madagascar); in North America, from the Pacific Coast eastward to the western Great Plains, and from British Columbia south to Mexico; and in South America in two areas: the Andes mountains and Brazil. There is no plague-infected animal population in Europe or Australia.

* On August 31, 1984, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a case of pneumonic plague in Claremont, California. The CDC believes that the patient, a veterinarian, contracted plague from a stray cat. This could not be confirmed since the cat was destroyed prior to the onset of symptoms. [cite web
title = Plague Pneumonia -- California
publisher = Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
date = August 31, 1984
url =
accessdate = 2007-04-20
* From 1995 to 1998, annual outbreaks of plague were witnessed in Mahajanga, Madagascar as per a study done by Pascal Boisier and other scientists and publish in Emerging Infectious Diseases journal in March 2002.

* In the U.S., about half of all food cases of plague since 1970 have occurred in New Mexico. There were 2 plague deaths in the state in 2006, the first fatalities in 12 years. [cite web
title = Plague Data in New Mexico
publisher = New Mexico Department of Health
date =
url =
accessdate = 2007-09-16

* In Fall of 2002, a New Mexico couple contracted the disease, just prior to a visit to New York City. They both were treated by antibiotics, but the male required amputation of both feet to fully recover, due to the lack of blood flow to his feet, cut off by the bacteria.

* On April 19, 2006, CNN News and others reported a case of plague in Los Angeles, California, lab technician Nirvana Kowlessar, the first reported case in that city since 1984. [cite web
title = Human Plague - Four States, 2006
publisher = Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
date = August 25, 2006
url =
accessdate = 2007-04-13

* In May 2006, KSL Newsradio reported a case of plague found in dead field mice and chipmunks at Natural Bridges about convert|40|mi|km|0 west of Blanding in San Juan County, Utah. [cite web
title = Campground Closes Because of Plague
publisher = KSL Newsradio
date = May 16, 2005
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-15

* In May 2006, AZ Central reported a case of plague found in a cat. [cite web
title = Cat tests positive for bubonic plague
publisher = The Arizona Republic
date = May 16, 2005
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-15

* One hundred deaths resulting from pneumonic plague were reported in Ituri district of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in June 2006. Control of the plague was proving difficult due to the ongoing conflict. [cite web
title = Congo 'plague' leaves 100 dead
publisher = BBC News
date = June 14, 2006
url = DR
accessdate = 2006-12-15

* It was reported in September 2006 that three mice infected with "Yersinia pestis" apparently disappeared from a laboratory belonging to the Public Health Research Institute, located on the campus of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which conducts anti-bioterrorism research for the United States government. [cite web
title = Plague-Infected Mice Missing From N.J. Lab
publisher = ABC News
date = September 15, 2005
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-15

* On May 16, 2007, an 8-year-old hooded capuchin monkey in the Denver Zoo died of the bubonic plague. Five squirrels and a rabbit were also found dead on zoo grounds and tested positive for the disease. [ cite web|url=|title=Denver zoo animal died of plague|publisher=News First Online|date=May 22, 2007|accessdate=2007-05-23]

* On June 5, 2007 in Scotland, UK a 68 year old woman developed bubonic plague, which progressed to pneumonic plague. [ cite web
title = RSOE EDIS
url =
accessdate = 2007-06-08

* On November 2, 2007, Eric York, a 37 year old wildlife biologist for the National Park Service's PDFlink| [ Mountain Lion Conservation program] |144 KiB and [ The Felidae Conservation Fund] , was found dead in his home at Grand Canyon National Park. On October 27, York performed a necropsy on a mountain lion that had likely perished from the disease and three days afterward York complained of flu-like symptoms and called in sick from work. He was treated at a local clinic but was not diagnosed with any serious ailment. The discovery of his death sparked a minor health scare, with officials stating he likely died of either plague or hantavirus, and 49 people who had come in to contact with York were given aggressive antibiotic treatments. None of them fell ill. Autopsy results released on November 9th, confirmed the presence of "Y. pestis" in his body, confirming plague as a likely cause of death. [cite news
title = Grand Canyon National Biologist probably died of plague
url =
publisher = The Arizona Republic
first = Astrid | last = Galvan
date = November 9, 2007
] [cite press release
title = Plague is probable cause of death of National Park Service employee at Grand Canyon National Park
url =
publisher = The National Park Service
first = Maureen
last = Oltrogge
first = Pamela
last = Walls
date = November 9, 2007

Literary and popular culture references

* "The Decameron" by Giovanni Boccaccio (1350). Takes place in Florence in 1348, during the outbreak of the Black Death.
* "Romeo and Juliet" (1597) Friar John was unable to go to Mantua and deliver a letter to Romeo because of Bubonic Plague quarantine.
* "A Journal of the Plague Year" by Daniel Defoe (1722). A fictional first hand account of the London outbreak of 1665. Probably based on the experiences of Defoe's uncle.
* "The Masque of the Red Death" (1842) by Edgar Allan Poe includes a vivid description of pestilence that some scholars have interpreted to be septicemic plague. [ [ Cummings Study Guide for "The Masque of the Red Death"] ]
* "I Promessi Sposi" ("The Betrothed") (1842) by Alessandro Manzoni set in early 17th century in Northern Italy, is one of the most read and better known classical novels in Italian literature. Contains a detailed and vivid account of society during the plague outbreak in its time.
* "Narcissus and Goldmund" by Hermann Hesse (1930). A fictional account in which the main character ends up witnessing the effects of the plague first-hand.
* "The Plague" by Albert Camus (1947) depicts an outbreak of plague at the Algerian city of Oran. The disease, often interpreted as a metaphor for the German occupation of France in World War II, serves as a means for the author to examine his characters' responses to hardship, suffering and death.
* "Panic in the Streets" (1950) by Elia Kazan. A murder victim is found to be infected with pneumonic plague. To prevent a catastrophic epidemic, the police must find and inoculate the killers and their associates.
* "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (1976) by Blue Öyster Cult. The line "40,000 men and women everyday... Like Romeo and Juliet - 40,000 men and women everyday... Redefine happiness - Another 40,000 coming everyday... We can be like they are" is a reference to the number of people dying daily during "The Black Plague"Fact|date=July 2007
* "The Plague Dogs" (1977), by Richard Adams. A fictional story in which two dogs, Rowf and Snitter, escape from a British government research laboratory and are hunted down by the government as potential carriers of the plague.
* "Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis (1992). A Hugo award and Nebula award-winning historical science fiction novel, in which a time-traveler inadvertently ends up in the plague-ridden England of 1348.
*"King of Shadows" (1999), by Susan Cooper. Nathan Field, an actor, is infected with the bubonic plague while staying in London, which sends him back in time to the Elizabethan ages.
* "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" (1999), a novel by Gregory Maguire, takes place in 17th Century Haarlem, Netherlands, where a resurgence of the plague occurred.
* "Year of Wonders" by Geraldine Brooks (2001), a fictional story of an historical event in which the small Derbyshire village of Eyam quarantines themselves once infected with the plague.
* "The Years of Rice and Salt" by Kim Stanley Robinson (2002). Presents an alternate history of the world where the population of Europe is obliterated by the "Black Death" setting the stage for a world without Europeans and Christianity.
* In "Dies the Fire" by S. M. Stirling in (2004), an epidemic of the Black Death is described around the city of Portland, Oregon.
* Episode 18 of the second season of American television show "House" features the bubonic plague.
* In the season one episode of "Torchwood", "End of Days", a woman from the 14th century infected by the plague falls through the rift into Cardiff, causing an infection of dozens of people in a local hospital.
* "Third Watch" In the third episode of the fifth season, a number of illegal immigrants are discovered in the back of a truck and brought to hospital where they are diagnosed with the plague. The situation is complicated by the fact one of the immigrants managed to flee.
* In "The Keys to the Kingdom" by Garth Nix, Suzy Turquoise Blue, one of the Piper's children, was led to the House by the Piper from London during the Great Plague of London.
* "Grey's Anatomy" In the first episode of the third season, a couple comes into the hospital because of flu symptoms, but get in a car crash along the way because the woman passed out while driving. Different rooms in the hospital are quarantined, and the woman in the crash dies after surgery, due to complications from the plague.
* In "Grand Theft Auto Advance", Liberty City is said to be affected by Bubonic plague.
* The band "Modest Mouse" references "the rats and the fleas" that caused the disease to spread to humans in their song March into the Sea.
* An episode of the TV show "Wire in the Blood" features a strain of bubonic plague as a biological weapon.
* In "Spooks" Series 6 (episodes one and two) a fictional virus that causes symptoms mimicking pneumonic plague is accidentally released in London.
* "Lux perpetua" (2006) by Andrzej Sapkowski. One of the main characters is murdered by magically induced septicemic plague.
* "World Without End" (2007) by Ken Follett. The plague's spread throughout Europe in the 14th century is an integral part of the book's storyline.
* "The Shifting Tide" (2004) by Anne Perry. The plague enters England via a ship transporting ivory.
* In an episode of the TV show "NCIS", SWAK, a team member gets infected with an engineered variant of pneumonic plague after opening a contaminated envelope.
*In the television series The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, the Plague makes people's faces hideously swelled and deformed. The only person it does not affect is Flapjack, whose blood is needed to make a cure. Bubbie does not get the Plague either, all though it is unknown if she is immune or not.
*The Return of the Black Death, an album by the Christian Black Metal band Antestor, deals with the second outbreak of the Plague epidemic in Norway and the country's subsequent Christianization.




*Weatherford 2004: 242-250
*Benedictow, Ole J. "The Black Death 1346-1353: The Complete History." DS Brewer, 2006. ISBN 978-1843832140.
*Biraben, Jean-Noel. "Les Hommes et la Peste" The Hague 1975.
*Buckler, John and Bennet D. Hill and John P. McKay. "A History of Western Society, 5th Edition." New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1995.
*Cantor, Norman F., "In the Wake of the Plague: the Black Death and the World It Made" New York: Harper Perennial, 2002. ISBN 978-0060014346.
* de Carvalho, Raimundo Wilson; Serra-Freire, Nicolau Maués; Linardi, Pedro Marcos; de Almeida, Adilson Benedito; and da Costa, Jeronimo Nunes (2001). [ Small Rodents Fleas from the Bubonic Plague Focus Located in the Serra dos Órgãos Mountain Range, State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil] . "Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz" 96(5), 603–609. PMID 11500756. "this manuscript reports a census of potential plague vectors (rodents and fleas) in a Brazilian focus region (i.e. region associated with cases of disease); free PDF download" Retrieved 2005-03-02
*Chase, Marilyn. "The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco." New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2004. ISBN 978-0375757082.
*cite book
last = Cohn
first = Samuel K.
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe
publisher = A Hodder Arnold
location =
pages = 336
url =
isbn= 0-340-70646-5

* Gregg, Charles T. "Plague!: The shocking story of a dread disease in America today". New York, NY: Scribner, 1978, ISBN 0-684-15372-6.
* Ernest Jawetz, et al. "Medical Microbiology". 18th ed. United States: Prentice-Hall International Inc., 1989. ISBN 0-8385-6238-8
* Kelly, John. "The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time". New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-06-000692-7.
* McNeill, William H. "Plagues and People". New York: Anchor Books, 1976. ISBN 0-385-12122-9. Reprinted with new preface 1998.
* Mohr, James C. "Plague and Fire: Battling Black Death and the 1900 Burning of Honolulu's Chinatown". New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-19-516231-5.
* Moote, A. Lloyd, and Dorothy C. Moote. "The Great Plague: The Story of London's Most Deadly Year." Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0801877834.
* Orent, Wendy. "Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease". New York: Free Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7432-3685-8.
* Papagrigorakis, Manolis J., Christos Yapijakis, Philippos N. Synodinos, and Effie Baziotopoulou-Valavani. "DNA examination of ancient dental pulp incriminates typhoid fever as a probable cause of the Plague of Athens," "International Journal of Infectious Diseases" 10 (2006): 206-214. ISSN 1201-9712.
* Patrick, Adam. "Disease in Antiquity: Ancient Greece and Rome," in "Diseases in Antiquity", editors: Don Brothwell and A. T. Sandison. Springfield, Illinois; Charles C. Thomas, 1967.
*Platt, Colin. "King Death: The Black Death and its Aftermath in Late-Medieval England" Toronto University Press, 1997.
*cite book
last = Rosen
first = William
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe
publisher = Viking Penguin
date = 2007
location =
pages = 367
url =
isbn= 978-0-670-03855-8

* Simpson, W. J. "A Treatise on Plague". Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1905.
* Spielvogel, Jackson J. "Western Civilization: A Brief History Vol. 1: to 1715". Belmont, Calif.: West/Wadsworth, 1999, Ch. 3, p. 56, paragraph 2. ISBN 0-534-56062-8.

External links

*World Health Organization
** [ Health topic]
** [ Communicable Disease Surveillance & Response] - Impact of plague & Information resources
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
** [ CDC Plague] map world distribution, publications, information on bioterrorism preparedness and response regarding plague
** [ Infectious Disease Information] more links including travelers' health
* [ Symptoms, causes, pictures of bubonic plague]
* [ Secrets of the Dead . Mystery of the Black Death] PBS
*PDFlink| [ Flea As Weapon] |281 KiB
* [ Researchers sound the alarm: the multidrug resistance of the plague bacillus could spread]
* [ Plague - LoveToKnow 1911]
* Genome information is available from the [ NIAID Enteropathogen Resource Integration Center (ERIC)]

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