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Bubonic plague

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Bubonic plague
Classification and external resources
An inguinal 'bubo' on the upper thigh of person infected with bubonic plague. Swollen lymph glands (buboes) often occur in the neck, armpit and groin (inguinal) regions of plague victims

Bubonic plague is the best-known form of the disease plague, which is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The name bubonic plague is specific for this form of the disease, which enters through the skin, and travels through the lymphatic system.

If the disease is left untreated, it kills about half its victims, in between three and seven days. The bubonic plague was the disease that caused the Black Death, which killed tens of millions of people in Europe, in the Middle Ages.[1]

Symptoms of this disease include coughing, fever, and black spots on the skin.

Different kinds of the same disease

There are different kinds of Bubonic plague. The most common form of the disease is spread by a certain kind of flea, that lives on rats. Then there is an incubation period which can last from a few hours to about seven days.

Septicemic plague

Sepsis happens when the bacterium enters the blood and make it form tiny clots.

Pneumonic plague

This happens when the bacterium can enter the lungs. About 95% of all people with this form will die. Incubation period is only one to two days.

The abortive form

This is the most harmless form. It will result in a little fever. After that, there are antibodies that protect against all forms for a long time.


During the 1300s, this epidemic struck parts of Asia, North Africa, and Europe. Almost a third of the people in Europe died of it. Unlike catastrophes that pull communities together, this epidemic was so terrifying that it broke people's trust in one another. Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian writer of the time, described it: "This scourge had implanted so great a terror in the hearts of men and women that brothers abandoned brothers, uncles their nephews, sisters their brothers, and in many cases wives deserted their husbands. But even worse,... fathers and mothers refused to nurse and assist their own children."[2]


Oriental rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) infected with the Yersinia pestis bacterium which appears as a dark mass in the gut. The foregut of this flea is blocked by a Y. pestis biofilm; when the flea attempts to feed on an uninfected host Y. pestis from the foregut is regurgitated into the wound, causing infection.

The plague was not just carried by rats as some people assume. The fleas also carried it. It came abroad from Kaffa by the Black Sea. From there the disease started to go new places in 1347. It went to England in 1349. There it killed half of the people in England. 70% of people who got plague died. Pigs are also to blame for the transmission, as the bacteria stayed in their blood system, and when eaten, people caught the plague. This is a reason why so few Jews or Muslims caught the disease.

Modern history

In the 20th century, some countries did research on the bacteria that causes bubonic plague. They did research to use it for biological warfare.

Samples of this bacteria are carefully controlled. There is much paranoia (fear) about it. Dr. Thomas C. Butler, a US expert in this organism was charged in October 2003 by the FBI with various crimes. This happened after he said he lost samples of Yersinia pestis. This is the bacteria that causes bubonic plague. The FBI did not find the samples. They do not know what happened to them.


  1. Walker, Cameron (10 March, 2004). "Bubonic Plague Traced to Ancient Egypt". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2 April, 2009.
  2. The decameron / Giovanni Boccaccio ; translated by Mark Musa & Peter Bondanella ; with an introduction by Thomas G. Bergin. ISBN 0-451-52866-2

it:Peste#Peste bubbonica pl:Dżuma#Patogeneza, objawy i rozpoznawanie