Plague is caused by the bacteria, Yersinia pestis, whose normal reservoir is rodent fleas. Plague does not occur naturally in Indiana. It is present in the fleas of wild rodents (ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and other burrowing rodents) of the western United States, where 10-15 cases of human plague occur annually. Plague is transmitted by an infected flea bite, direct contact with a sick or dead animal, or from respiratory droplets from a sick animal. There are three forms of the disease: 1) bubonic plague, an infection of lymph nodes; 2) septicemic plague, a systemic infection; or 3) pneumonic plague, an infection of the lungs. If not treated rapidly, bubonic or pneumonic plague can develop into septicemic plague. Early treatment with antibiotics prevents the high mortality previously associated with plague.
No cases of plague have been reported in Indiana to date.
Plague is classified as a Category A, potential bioterrorism agent because of its ability to be transmitted via aerosolization as a weapon and secondarily by respiratory droplets from infected individuals. Plague was used as a weapon of mass destruction during WWII.
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