Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Plague
Can a person exposed to pneumonic plague avoid becoming
Yes. People who have had close contact with an infected person can greatly
reduce the chance of becoming sick if they begin treatment within seven days of
their exposure. Treatment consists of taking antibiotics for at least seven
How quickly would someone get sick if exposed to plague
bacteria through the air?
Someone exposed to Yersinia pestis through the air -- either from an
intentional aerosol release or from close and direct exposure to someone with
plague pneumonia -- would become ill within one to six days.
Can pneumonic plague be treated?
Yes. To prevent a high risk of death, antibiotics should be given within 24
hours of the first symptoms. Several types of antibiotics are effective for
curing the disease and for preventing it. Available oral medications are a
tetracycline (such as doxycycline) or a fluoroquinolone (such as
ciprofloxacin). For injection or intravenous use, streptomycin or gentamicin
antibiotics are used. Early in the response to a bioterrorism attack, these
drugs would be tested to determine which is most effective against the
particular weapon that was used.
Would enough medication be available in the event of a
bioterrorism attack involving pneumonic plague?
National and state public health officials have large supplies of drugs
needed in the event of a bioterrorism attack. These supplies can be sent
anywhere in the United States within 12 hours.
What should someone do if they suspect they or others have
been exposed to plague?
Get immediate medical attention: To prevent illness, a person who has been
exposed to pneumonic plague must receive antibiotic treatment without delay. If
an exposed person becomes ill, antibiotics must be administered within 24 hours
of their first symptoms to reduce the risk of death. Notify authorities:
Immediately notify local or state health departments so they can begin to
investigate and control the problem right away. If bioterrorism is suspected,
the health departments will notify the CDC, FBI, and other appropriate
How can someone reduce the risk of getting pneumonic plague
from another person or giving it to someone else?
People having direct and close contact with someone with pneumonic plague
should wear tightly fitting disposable surgical masks. Patients with the
disease should be isolated and medically supervised for at least the first 48
hours of antibiotic treatment. People who have been exposed to a contagious
person can be protected from developing plague by receiving prompt antibiotic
How is plague diagnosed?
The first step is evaluation by a health worker. If the health worker
suspects pneumonic plague, samples of the patient's blood, sputum, or lymph
node aspirate are sent to a laboratory for testing. Once the laboratory
receives the sample, preliminary results can be ready in less than two hours.
Confirmation will take longer, usually 24 to 48 hours.