We've all heard of the Great Plague ravaging Europe centuries ago but did you know that it still exists today? We speak to Daniel Epstein from the World Health Organisation to find out more.  

Plague is one of the oldest identifiable diseases known to man, and it still remains endemic in many natural foci around the world.

Key facts on Plague today

  • Plague can be a very severe disease in people, with a case-fatality ratio of 30%-60% if left untreated.
  • It was known as the "Black Death" during the fourteenth century, causing an estimated 50 million deaths.
  • Plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia Pestis, a zoonotic bacteria, usually found in small animals and their fleas.
  • People infected with plague usually develop “flu-like” symptoms after an incubation period of 3-7 days.
  • There are 3 forms of plague infection depending on the route of infection: bubonic, septicaemic and pneumonic. Bubonic-characterized by painful swollen lymph nodes or ‘buboes’- is the most common form.
  • Plague epidemics have occurred in Africa, Asia, and South America but since the 1990s, most human cases have occurred in Africa.
  • In 2013 there were 783 cases reported worldwide, including 126 deaths.
  • The 3 most endemic countries are Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. However cases still occur in other countries, including the United States of America.

WHO statistics on plague


Plague Treatment

Untreated plague can be rapidly fatal so early diagnosis and treatment is essential for survival and reduction of complications. Antibiotics and supportive therapy are effective against plague if patients are diagnosed in time. These methods include the administration of antibiotics and supportive therapy.

Plague Prevention

Preventive measures include informing people when zoonotic plague is active in their environment and advising them to take precautions against flea bites and not to handle animal carcasses in plague-endemic areas. People should also avoid direct contact with infected tissues such as suppurating buboes, or exposure to patients with pneumonic plague.
To learn more about the Great Plague see Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution
Did you know plague persists in the modern age? Join the conversation on social media using #PepysShow