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How Is Bubonic Plague Spread?

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Updated June 06, 2014

Fleas can spread bubonic plague

Fleas can spread bubonic plague

Photo courtesy of the CDC
Question: How Is Bubonic Plague Spread?
Answer: Bubonic plague is a potentially fatal infection caused by the bacterium Yersina pestis. Bubonic plague is not usually spread directly from person to person. Small rodents, such as rats, mice, squirrels, and weasels, carry the infection. These animals have fleas that are infected with the plague bacteria. People may get exposed to the bacteria from flea bites or from direct contact with an infected animal.

Pets such as cats and dogs also may get bubonic plague. They usually become infected from touching, biting, or eating an infected mouse or rat. If the infected cat or dog has fleas, those fleas can give the plague bacteria to people through bites. People can also become infected by touching the infected skin or fluids of the dog or cat.

During the Middle Ages, bubonic plague was known as the "Black Death." During that time many people became sick with pneumonia from Yersinia pestis (called "pneumonic plague") and spread the disease bacteria to each other by coughing and sneezing.

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