Symptoms of plague

Learn about the symptoms of plague, what to look for and what to do if you become ill.

On this page

Symptoms of plague

People infected with plague usually develop flu-like symptoms 1 to 7 days after they are infected. After this flu-like phase, they develop different symptoms depending on the form of plague.

There is only one cause of plague but there are 3 different forms of illness the infection can cause. They are:

  • bubonic
  • septicemic
  • pneumonic

Bubonic plague

Bubonic plague is the most common form. It usually occurs from the bite of an infected flea that has fed on an infected rodent, such as a rat.
Bubonic plague symptoms usually include:

  • weakness
  • fever and chills
  • head and body aches
  • swollen and painful lymph nodes (called buboes) usually found closest to where the bacteria entered the human body, such as the:
    • neck
    • groin
    • armpits

Septicemic plague

Septicemic plague can occur when the infection spreads through the blood. It causes general symptoms like bleeding and shock. It causes other symptoms in different parts of the body such as:

  • fever
  • skin turning black, especially on:
    • toes
    • fingers
    • the nose

This form is usually seen as a complication of bubonic plague.

Pneumonic plague

Pneumonic plague is the most serious form of plague. It is also the least common. Most of the symptoms are due to the infection occurring in the lungs. It is the only form of plague that can be spread from person to person by droplets in the air.

Pneumonic plague results from:

  • inhaling droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person or animal
  • untreated bubonic or septicemic plague, when the bacterium has spread to the lungs

Pneumonic plague symptoms include:

  • cough
  • chest pain
  • high fever
  • weakness
  • shortness of breath
  • bloody / watery mucous
  • rapidly developing pneumonia

Symptoms of pneumonic plague can appear as soon as 1 day after the lungs are infected with the bacterium.

What to do if you become ill

Untreated pneumonic plague is almost always fatal.

If treated immediately plague can typically be cured with antibiotics. However, treatment is not a guarantee of full recovery or survival. Generally, pneumonic and septicemic plague are more deadly than bubonic plague.

Contact a health care provider immediately if:

  • you are showing signs and symptoms of plague and
  • you have come into close contact with or been exposed to:
    • an animal or fleas that might have plague
    • someone who is sick or suspected of being infected with plague

Before you book a medical appointment, contact your health care provider by phone and:

  • describe your symptoms
    • your health care provider can arrange to see you without potentially exposing others to the disease
  • tell them where you travelled or lived at the time you believe you came into contact with plague

Stop the spread of germs:

  • avoid close contact with other people
  • practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette. Cover your mouth and nose with your arm and not your hand.                                                                                                         

Early treatment with the correct medications is critical to prevent complications or death.

Page details

Date modified: