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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Plague

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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 treatment.

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.

How long can plague bacteria exist in the environment?
Yersinia pestis is easily destroyed by sunlight and drying. Even so, when released into air, the bacterium will survive for up to one hour, depending on conditions.

Is a vaccine available to prevent pneumonic plague?
Currently, no plague vaccine is available in the United States. Research is in progress, but we are not likely to have vaccines for several years or more.

WebMD Public Information from the CDC

Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on February 01, 2003
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