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Concept: Pneumonic plague


Yersinia pestis causes the fatal respiratory disease pneumonic plague. Y. pestis recently evolved from the gastrointestinal pathogen Y. pseudotuberculosis; however, it is not known at what point Y. pestis gained the ability to induce a fulminant pneumonia. Here we show that the acquisition of a single gene encoding the protease Pla was sufficient for the most ancestral, deeply rooted strains of Y. pestis to cause pneumonic plague, indicating that Y. pestis was primed to infect the lungs at a very early stage in its evolution. As Y. pestis further evolved, modern strains acquired a single amino-acid modification within Pla that optimizes protease activity. While this modification is unnecessary to cause pneumonic plague, the substitution is instead needed to efficiently induce the invasive infection associated with bubonic plague. These findings indicate that Y. pestis was capable of causing pneumonic plague before it evolved to optimally cause invasive infections in mammals.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Pneumonic plague, Bacterial diseases


Plague is an ancient disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and transmitted by rodent flea bites that continues to surprise us with first-ever events. This review documents plague in human cases in the 1st decade of the 21st century and updates our knowledge of clinical manifestations, transmission during outbreaks, diagnostic testing, antimicrobial treatment, and vaccine development. In the United States, 56 persons were reported to have the disease, of which seven died. Worldwide, 21,725 persons were affected with 1,612 deaths, for a case-fatality rate of 7.4%. The Congo reported more cases than any other country, including two large outbreaks of pneumonic plague, surpassing Madagascar, which had the most cases in the previous decade. Two United States scientists suffered fatal accidental exposures: a wildlife biologist, who carried out an autopsy on a mountain lion in Arizona in 2007, and a geneticist with subclinical hemochromatosis in Chicago, who was handling an avirulent strain of Y. pestis in 2009. Antimicrobial drugs given early after the onset of symptoms prevented many deaths; those recommended for treatment and prophylaxis included gentamicin, doxycycline, and fluoroquinolones, although fluoroquinolones have not been adequately tested in humans. Fleas that do not have their guts blocked by clotted blood meals were shown to be better transmitters of plague than blocked fleas. Under development for protection against bioterrorist use, a subunit vaccine containing F1 and V antigens of Y. pestis was administered to human volunteers eliciting antibodies without any serious side effects. These events, although showing progress, suggest that plague will persist in rodent reservoirs mostly in African countries burdened by poverty and civil unrest, causing death when patients fail to receive prompt antimicrobial treatment.

Concepts: Flea, Death, 21st century, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Pneumonic plague


No efficient vaccine against plague is currently available. We previously showed that a genetically attenuated Yersinia pseudotuberculosis producing the Yersinia pestis F1 antigen was an efficient live oral vaccine against pneumonic plague. This candidate vaccine however failed to confer full protection against bubonic plague and did not produce F1 stably.

Concepts: Vaccination, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Pneumonic plague, Bacterial diseases, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis


During a pneumonic plague outbreak in Moramanga, Madagascar, we identified 4 confirmed, 1 presumptive, and 9 suspected plague case-patients. Human-to-human transmission among close contacts was high (reproductive numberĀ 1.44) and the case fatality rate was 71%. Phylogenetic analysis showed that the Yersinia pestis isolates belonged to group q3, different from the previous outbreak.

Concepts: Computational phylogenetics, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Pneumonic plague, Bacterial diseases, Yersinia


The US Food and Drug Administration recently approved ciprofloxacin for treatment of plague (Yersina pestis infection) based on animal studies. Published evidence of efficacy in humans is sparse. We report 5 cases of culture-confirmed human plague treated successfully with oral ciprofloxacin, including 1 case of pneumonic plague.

Concepts: Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Pneumonic plague, Bacterial diseases, Third Pandemic, Pasteur Institute


Inhalation of the bacterium Yersinia pestis results in primary pneumonic plague. Pneumonic plague is the most severe manifestation of plague, with mortality rates approaching 100% in the absence of treatment. Its rapid disease progression, lethality, and ability to be transmitted via aerosol have compounded fears of the intentional release of Y. pestis as a biological weapon. Importantly, recent epidemics of plague have highlighted a significant role for pneumonic plague during outbreaks of Y. pestis infections. In this review we describe the characteristics of pneumonic plague, focusing on its disease progression and pathogenesis. The rapid time-course, severity, and difficulty of treating pneumonic plague highlight how differences in the route of disease transmission can enhance the lethality of an already deadly pathogen.

Concepts: Immune system, Epidemiology, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Pneumonic plague, Bacterial diseases


Inhalation of Yersinia pestis causes primary pneumonic plague, a highly lethal syndrome with mortality rates approaching 100%. Pneumonic plague progression is biphasic, with an initial pre-inflammatory phase facilitating bacterial growth in the absence of host inflammation, followed by a pro-inflammatory phase marked by extensive neutrophil influx, an inflammatory cytokine storm, and severe tissue destruction. Using a FRET-based probe to quantitate injection of effector proteins by the Y. pestis type III secretion system, we show that these bacteria target alveolar macrophages early during infection of mice, followed by a switch in host cell preference to neutrophils. We also demonstrate that neutrophil influx is unable to limit bacterial growth in the lung and is ultimately responsible for the severe inflammation during the lethal pro-inflammatory phase.

Concepts: Immune system, Microbiology, Secretion, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Pneumonic plague


In August 2015, plague was diagnosed for 2 persons who had visited Yosemite National Park in California, USA. One case was septicemic and the other bubonic. Subsequent environmental investigation identified probable locations of exposure for each patient and evidence of epizootic plague in other areas of the park. Transmission of Yersinia pestis was detected by testing rodent serum, fleas, and rodent carcasses. The environmental investigation and whole-genome multilocus sequence typing of Y. pestis isolates from the patients and environmental samples indicated that the patients had been exposed in different locations and that at least 2 distinct strains of Y. pestis were circulating among vector-host populations in the area. Public education efforts and insecticide applications in select areas to control rodent fleas probably reduced the risk for plague transmission to park visitors and staff.

Concepts: United States, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Pneumonic plague, National Park Service, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada


Yersinia pestis is the pathogen of the plague and caused three pandemics worldwide. Pneumonic plague is rarer than bubonic and septicemic plague. We report detailed clinical and pathogenic data for all the three sporadic cases of pneumonic plagues in China in 2014.

Concepts: Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Pneumonic plague, Bacterial diseases, Third Pandemic, Septicemic plague


Currently, no plague vaccine exists in the United States for human use. The capsular antigen (Caf1 or F1) and two type 3 secretion system (T3SS) components, the low calcium response V antigen (LcrV) and the needle protein YscF, represent protective antigens of Yersinia pestis We used a replication-defective human type-5 adenovirus vector (Ad5) and constructed recombinant monovalent and trivalent vaccines (rAd5-LcrV and rAd5-YFV) that expressed either the codon-optimized lcrV or the fusion gene YFV (consisting of ycsF, caf1 and lcrV). Immunization of mice with the trivalent rAd5-YFV vaccine by either the intramuscular (i.m.) or the intranasal (i.n.) route provided superior protection compared to the monovalent rAd5-LcrV vaccine against bubonic and pneumonic plague when animals were challenged with Y. pestis CO92. Pre-existing adenoviral immunity did not diminish the protective response, and the protection was always higher when mice were administered one i.n. dose of the trivalent vaccine (priming) followed by a single i.m. booster dose of the purified YFV antigen. Immunization of cynomolgus macaques with the trivalent rAd5-YFV vaccine by the prime-boost strategy provided 100% protection to animals that had pre-existing adenoviral immunity, against a stringent aerosol challenge dose of CO92. The vaccinated and challenged macaques had no signs of disease, and the invading pathogen rapidly cleared with no histopathological lesions. This is the first report showing the efficacy of an adenovirus-vectored trivalent vaccine against pneumonic plague in mouse and NHP models.

Concepts: Immune system, Vaccine, Vaccination, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Pneumonic plague