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Circular 1372

National Wildlife Health Center


By Rachel C. Abbott and Tonie E. Rocke

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Plague offers readers an overview of this highly complex disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. The history of the disease, as well as information about Yersinia pestis and its transmission by fleas, is described. The section Geographic Distribution presents areas of the world and United States where plague occurs most commonly in rodents and humans. Species Susceptibility describes infection and disease rates in rodents, humans, and other animals. Disease Ecology considers the complex relationship among rodents, domestic and wild animals, and humans and explores possible routes of transmission and maintenance of the organism in the environment. The effects of climate change, the potential for Y. pestis to be used as a bioweapon, and the impact of plague on conservation of wildlife are considered in Points to Ponder. Disease Prevention and Control outlines methods of prevention and treatment including vaccination for prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets. A glossary of technical terms is included.

Tonie E. Rocke, the senior author and an epizootiologist at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC), is a prominent researcher on oral vaccination of prairie dogs to prevent plague. She is currently working to transfer her success in the laboratory to the field to control plague in prairie dogs. Rachel C. Abbott, a biologist at the NWHC, is assisting Dr. Rocke in this process and will coordinate field trials of the vaccine. Milt Friend, first director of the NWHC, wrote the foreword.

Plague is intended for scholars and the general public. The material is presented in a simple, straightforward manner that serves both audiences. Numerous illustrations and tables provide easily understood summaries of key points and information.

First posted June 12, 2012

For additional information contact:
Rachel C. Abbott
National Wildlife Health Center
U.S. Geological Survey
6006 Schroeder Rd.
Madison, WI 53711

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Abbott, R.C., and Rocke, T.E., 2012, Plague: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1372, 79 p., plus appendix. (Also available at





Causative Agent

Geographic Distribution

Patterns and Trends

Species Susceptibility

Obtaining a Diagnosis

Disease Ecology

Points to Ponder

Disease Prevention and Control

References Cited


Appendix 1. Common and Scientific Names for Species Cited

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