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Clin Lab Sci. 2004 Winter;17(1):25-9.

Yersinia pestis: still a plague in the 21st century.

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School of Health Related Professions, Department of Clinical Laboratory Science, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, NJ 07107, USA.


Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, is an aerobic, non-motile, gram-negative bacillus belonging to the family Enterobacteriacea. It is a zoonotic infection transmitted to humans via the bite of a flea. Three clinical forms of human plague exist: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. Many important virulence factors associated with this organism are responsible for its extreme pathogenicity and high mortality rates. The bubonic form of plague is usually not transmitted human to human but the pneumonic form is--through inhalation of contaminated aerosol droplets. The pneumonic plague would be the form most likely implicated in the event of an intentional attack. Inhalation of aerosols can cause devastating consequences resulting in many casualties. Unless antibiotics are administered within 24 hours of the initial symptoms, death is inevitable. Its potential for use as a biological weapon is of major concern to public health officials.

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