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Bubonic Plague (Yersinia pestis)


Plague, Black death


Bubonic Plague

Typical "fried egg" aspect of Yersinia pestis colonies grown on blood agar.


  • Bacteria; Proteobacteria; Gammaproteobacteria; Enterobacteriales; Enterobacteriaceae; Yersinia
  • Notifiable Disease : Yes


Plague is an infectious disease of animals and humans caused by Yersinia pestis. People usually get plague from being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an infected animal.


Millions of people in Europe died from plague in the Middle Ages, when human homes and places of work were inhabited by flea-infested rats.


Western Europe has now been totally free of plague for more than 80 years. The last and nearest epidemic occurred in Paris in 1920 where it affected a community of ragpickers. However, the disease regularly re-emerge at the borders of Europe, for instance in Algeria where cases were reported for the last time in 2003. Modern antibiotics are effective against plague, but if an infected person is not treated promptly, the disease is likely to cause death.


Plague is transmitted from rodent to rodent by infected fleas. It is characterized by periodic disease outbreaks in rodent populations, some of which have a high death rate. During these outbreaks, hungry infected fleas, that lost their normal hosts, seek other sources of blood, thus increasing the risk to humans and other animals frequenting the area.Bubonic plague


Epidemics of plague in humans usually involve house rats and their fleas. Rat-borne epidemics continue to occur in some developing countries, particularly in rural areas. Between outbreaks, the plague bacterium is believed to circulate within populations of certain species of rodents without causing excessive mortality. Such groups of infected animals are thought to serve as silent, long-term reservoirs of infection.



CODA-CERVA is the Belgian National Reference Laboratory for bubonic plague (humans and animals).

- Specific information for diagnosis (matrix, tests)

- Isolation (from clinical samples)

- Molecular Diagnostic (PCR)


Research at CODA-CERVA is devoted to the study of plague maintenance out of susceptible rodent populations. The laboratory studies transmission of the plague bacillus on one hand, and soil micro-animals to investigate the colonization of biotopes and long-term maintenance of plague on the other hand.


The laboratory has the necessary authorizations and premises to grow the plague bacillus in safe conditions. The personnel is experienced with the isolation and identification of Y. pestis from suspect clinical samples from humans or animals (buboes' aspirate, sputum, blood, organs).


Pierre Wattiau