A third case of bubonic plague has been reported in the US.

Many may think of the ‘Black Death’ or bubonic plague as a thing of the past, something that belongs back in medieval times. Not so. For the third time in six months, a cat has been tested positive for bubonic plague in Wyoming, USA.

Although no human cases have been reported yet, US health authorities re-issued warnings that the disease can be passed to humans from infected animals. In fact, on average there are seven human plague cases each year in the USA.

Plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which is carried by infected rodents and spread through flea bites. Plague symptoms include fever, swollen and tender lymph glands (the buboes of bubonic plague), difficult breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. It can result in death if not caught early enough and treated with antibiotics, with a fatality rate of between 30-60%.

Although about 80% of plague cases are caused by the common form of the disease, bubonic plague, 20% of cases are caused by pneumonic plague, when the bacteria infects the lungs. This form is both more infectious and more serious, with 100% mortality if left untreated. This form was particularly prevalent in the Madagascar plague outbreak of 2017, when about two thirds of the cases were pneumonic plague and the outbreak resulted in 221 deaths.

Fortunately for us in Australia, the plague is currently con ned to tropical Africa, the Americas and Asia. However, it does mean protection from flea bites is another consideration when travelling overseas. It is a reportable disease so any travellers or visitors entering Australia who become ill need to be dealt with appropriately.

Although the plague is not present in Australia, both fleas and rodents are implicated in a range of other humans diseases such as murine typhus and leptospirosis, so controlling and cleaning up after these pests is an important role for the pest manager.

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