When bubonic plague is suspected, the person should be hospitalized and placed in isolation. Even before lab tests come back, treatment will be started. Treatment generally involves antibiotics. It is also important that people who have been in close contact with a person who has the disease be identified and evaluated.
Left untreated, bubonic bacteria can quickly multiply in the bloodstream, causing septicemic plague, or even progress to the lungs, causing pneumonic plague. The mortality rate is 50 to 90 percent if not treated; the mortality rate is 15 percent when diagnosed and treated early.
Approximately 10 to 20 people in the United States develop bubonic plague each year from flea or rodent bites -- primarily from infected prairie dogs -- in rural areas of the southwestern United States. About one in seven of those infected die as a result. There has not been a case of person-to-person infection in the United States since 1924.
Worldwide, there have been small plague outbreaks in Asia, Africa, and South America. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports 1,000 to 3,000 cases every year. Current WHO statistics show there were 2,118 cases in 2003 worldwide.
Plague occurs more frequently during spring and summer months, especially in males and people under the age of 20.
(Click Where Is Plague? for more information.)
Bubonic plague will probably continue to exist in its many localized geographic areas around the world, and outbreaks in wild rodent hosts will continue to occur. Attempts to eliminate the disease in wild rodents are costly and futile; therefore, prevention is directed toward reducing the threat of infection in humans in high-risk areas through three techniques:
- Preventative drug therapy
- Public health education
- Environmental management.