Skip to main content


Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is plague?

Plague is a life-threatening disease caused by bacteria. Plague is found in rodents, such as rats, prairie dogs, and squirrels. Plague spreads through direct contact with an infected animal or person. Plague may also spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

What are the signs and symptoms of plague?

Symptoms begin 2 to 8 days after infection with the bacteria. You may have the following:

  • Sudden fever, chills, and weakness
  • Swollen, red, and extremely painful lymph nodes in your armpits, neck, or groin area. These are called bubos. They may be may be ½ inch to 4 inches (1 to 10 cm) across. Rarely, the bubo opens up and pus comes out.
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Purple skin patches that turn black
  • Chest pain, painful breathing, and coughing up blood

How is plague diagnosed?

Tell your healthcare provider if you have traveled in the past 10 days. Tell him if you have had contact with a person or animal who may have plague. A sample of blood, mucus from your lungs, or tissue from your lymph node will show if you have plague. Your healthcare provider must make a diagnosis quickly because the disease is life-threatening. He may start treatment based on your symptoms and if you have recently been in an area with infected rodents.

How is plague treated?

Antibiotics treat the bacterial infection.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have been exposed to plague.
  • You have a sudden fever with chills and weakness.
  • You develop swollen, red, and extremely painful lymph nodes in your armpits, neck, or groin area.
  • You have abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • You have unexplained bleeding.
  • You have purple skin patches that turn black.
  • You have chest pain, painful breathing, and you are coughing up blood.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Plague

Treatment options

Symptoms and treatments guides (external)

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.