MadSci Network: Microbiology

Re: Is there a cure for bubonic plague today?

Date: Thu May 19 13:38:25 2005
Posted By: Michael Weaver, Staff, Biology/Microbiology, Merck & Co., Inc.
Area of science: Microbiology
ID: 1116517000.Mi


The short answer is yes. With modern antibiotics such as gentamicin, tetracycline, and Ciprofloxacin, a bacterial infection by Yersinia pestis, the organism that causes bubonic plague, is very treatable. In fact the mortality rate is only 1-15% in treated cases. The unfortunate part about Yersinia pestis infections in the modern world is misdiagnosis. Since bubonic plague, and the related pneumonic plague and septicemic plaque, is much rarer today than it was hundreds of years ago, doctor's have a hard time recognizing the symptoms and starting the proper treatment. If the correct treatment is not started immediately, the mortality rate for bubonic plague can soar to as high as 60-100% depending on the severity of the disease.

Another factor that leads to misdiagnosis is that bubonic plague has migrated out of the cities and into rural areas. In the cities, the rats that harbor the disease have been kept under control and the spread of the disease has been limited. In rural areas where it is often carried by other rodents such as chipmunks and squirrels, there are no such controls in place. Doctor's in rural areas are also less familiar with the infection and valuable time can be lost in the diagnostic process.

If you would like to read more about bubonic plague and Yersinia pestis please check out this website:

I hope this answers your question.


Murray, P.R. (ed), Baron, E.J., Jorgensen, J.H., Pfaller, M.A., and Yolken, R.H. Manual of Clinical Microbiology. 8th edition. 2003.

Michael R. Weaver
Culture Microbiologist
Merck & Co., Inc.

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