In order to make a septicemic plague diagnosis, the doctor will ask a number of questions about a patient's medical history and perform a physical exam. During the exam, the doctor will look at the skin and listen to the lungs for signs of plague. If the doctor has a high suspicion that a person has plague, he or she will recommend certain tests.
Before diagnosing plague, the doctor will consider and rule out other conditions that share some similar symptoms of plague. These conditions include:
- Syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease)
- Lymphyogranuloma vernereum (a sexually transmitted disease affecting the lymph system)
- Tularemia (a serious illness usually caused by animals)
- Cat scratch fever (a disease associated with being scratched by a cat)
- Shigellosis (an infectious disease typically caused by unsanitary conditions)
- Typhoid fever (a life-threatening illness caused by Salmonella).
When septicemic plague is suspected, the person is hospitalized and placed in isolation. Even before lab tests come back, treatments for septicemic plague will be started. Septicemic plague treatment usually involves antibiotics and supportive care. Supportive care is treating symptoms and complications that occur as a result of plague. It also important that people who have been in close contact with an infected patient be identified and evaluated for possible treatment.
The mortality rate for septicemic plague is 50 to 90 percent if left untreated; the mortality rate drops to 15 percent when the disease is diagnosed and treated early.
Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports 1,000 to 3,000 cases of plague every year.
Approximately 10 to 20 people in the United States develop 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 from plague. There has not been a case of person-to-person infection in the United States since 1924.
(Click Where Is Plague? for more information.)