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Clin Infect Dis. 2005 Apr 15;40(8):1166-72. Epub 2005 Mar 16.

Risk of person-to-person transmission of pneumonic plague.

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Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, National Center for Infectious Disease, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fort Collins, CO 80522, USA.


Plague has received much attention because it may be used as a weapon by terrorists. Intentionally released aerosols of Yersinia pestis would cause pneumonic plague. In order to prepare for such an event, it is important, particularly for medical personnel and first responders, to form a realistic idea of the risk of person-to-person spread of infection. Historical accounts and contemporary experience show that pneumonic plague is not as contagious as it is commonly believed to be. Persons with plague usually only transmit the infection when the disease is in the endstage, when infected persons cough copious amounts of bloody sputum, and only by means of close contact. Before antibiotics were available for postexposure prophylaxis for contacts, simple protective measures, such as wearing masks and avoiding close contact, were sufficient to interrupt transmission during pneumonic plague outbreaks. In this article, I review the historical literature and anecdotal evidence regarding the risk of transmission, and I discuss possible protective measures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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