Contagious: Plague


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About contagion: Contagion and contagiousness refers to how easily the spread of Plague is possible from one person to another. Other words for contagion include "infection", "infectiousness", "transmission" or "transmissability". Contagiousness has nothing to do with genetics or inheriting diseases from parents. For an overview of contagion, see Introduction to Contagion.

Contagion summary: Plague is spread to humans through the bites of fleas, which pick up the bacteria while sucking blood from rodents, especially rats.1

Contagion discussion: Plague is usually transmitted to humans by the bites of infected rodent fleas. During rodent plague outbreaks, many animals die and their hungry fleas seek other sources of blood to survive. Persons and animals that visit places where rodents have recently died from plague risk getting the disease from flea bites. Persons also can become directly infected through handling infected rodents, rabbits, or wild carnivores that prey on these animals, when plague bacteria enter through breaks in the person's skin. House cats also are susceptible to plague. Infected cats become sick and may directly transmit plague to persons who handle or care for them. Also, dogs and cats may bring plague-infected fleas into the home. Inhaling droplets expelled by the coughing of a plague-infected person or animal (especially house cats) can result in plague of the lungs (plague pneumonia). Transmission of plague pneumonia from person to person is uncommon but sometimes results in dangerous epidemics that can quickly spread. 2

Plague is transmitted by fleas from infected animals to humans (in the United States primarily rock squirrels, prairie dogs, and other burrowing rodents); by direct contact with infected tissues or fluids; or by respiratory droplets from cats and humans with pneumonic plague. 3

Footnotes:
1. excerpt from Microbes in Sickness and in Health - Publications, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: NIAID
2. excerpt from Plague Epidemiology: DVBID
3. excerpt from Facts About Plague: CDC-OC

Last revision: June 10, 2003

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