Infectious Disease Online
Pathology of Plague- "The Black Death"
Plague is a highly virulent disease believed to have killed millions during three historic human pandemics.
Worldwide, it remains a threat to humans and is a potential agent of bioterrorism.
Plague is caused by Yersinia pestis, a plump, bipolar, staining coccobacillus.
The America, Africa, and Asia are endemic areas.
Wild rodents such as squirrels, chipmunks, mice, wood rats, and rabbits are reservoirs.
Plague bacteria are usually transmitted from animal to animal by bite of an infected flea. Infected domestic animals bring the disease to humans by direct contact or flea bites.
Plague may present in a variety of clinical forms.
Bubonic disease, pneumonic plague, and septicemic plague are seen in addition to a number of other less common manifestations.
Two to eight days after the flea bite, bubonic plague begins with chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, and rapid respiration and pulse.
A painful lymphnode (bubo) enlarged in the area drained by the bite.
The architecture of the lymph node, including the capsule and perinodal fat, is obliterated by necrosis, hemorrhage and finely granular material.
This material comprises solid masses of gram-negative coccobacilli, the plague bacillus.
Blood cultures are positive in 50% of patients.
Petechiae and ecchymoses lead to the “black death”, 60 to 90% of those affected dying within 24 hours if untreated.
Toxemia may kill even when antibiotics have arrested the growth of bacteria.
The virulence of the plague bacillus partly reflects its resistance to phagocytosis and destruction.
Further more, the bacillus elaborates an antigenic coat that, on the release of the organisms from phagocytic cells, enhances their resistance to further phagocytosis.
In primary systemic plague, the bacteria are inoculated directly into the blood and do not produce a bubo.
Patients die from the overwhelming growth of the bacteria in the blood stream.
Fever, prostration, and meningitis occur suddenly, and death comes within 28 hours of onset.
All vessels contain bacilli, and fibrin casts surround them in renal glomeruli and in dermal vessels.
In primary pneumonic plague, the bacilli are inhaled in airborne particles from carcasses of animals or from a patient’s cough.
48 to 60 hours after infection, there is a sudden onset of high fever, cough, and dyspnea.
Radiographs demonstrate patchy bronchopneumonia or confluent consolidation.
Numerous bacilli are detected in the sputum.
Respiratory insufficiency and shock from endotoxin and disseminated intravascular coagulation kill the patient in 1 to 2 days.
Lobular pneumonia is characterized by necrotic alveolar walls, nodules of necrotic tissue and debris, intense hyperemia and hemorrhage, and myriad bacilli in the alveoli. Neutrophils are scant.
The diagnosis is made by blood culture and smears of aspirate from buboes, cerebrospinal fluid, sputum and intratracheal aspirates.
Tetracycline or streptomycin are effective if started early, and chloramphenicol is used in patients with meningitis.
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