TAB G – Plague

Overview: Although information indicating Iraq weaponized Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, is lacking, Iraq possessed the technical capability to produce and weaponize the bacterium.[140] Plague is a zoonotic disease, i.e., it affects humans and animals; all human populations are susceptible. In areas where plague is present, the bacteria can infect rodents (rats, mice, ground squirrels). Fleas living on the rodents can sometimes pass the bacteria to human beings, who then suffer from the bubonic form of plague. The pneumonic form of the disease would occur as the primary form after purposeful aerosol dissemination of the organisms. The bubonic form would occur after purposeful dissemination by releasing infected fleas. Temporary immunity may follow recovery from the disease. The organism can remain viable in water, moist meals, and grains for several weeks. At near-freezing temperatures, it can live from months to years, but 15 minutes’ exposure to 72�C will kill the bacterium. It also remains viable for some time in dry sputum, flea feces, and buried bodies but dies after several hours of exposure to sunlight.[141]

Signs and Symptoms: Plague normally appears in three forms in man: bubonic (caused by the bite of an infected flea), primary septicemic (caused by blood stream infection after the flea-bite), and pneumonic (lung infection caused by inhaling the organism). For bubonic plague the incubation period is 2 to 10 days. Symptoms include malaise, high fever, and tender lymph nodes. The plague may progress spontaneously with spread to the central nervous system, lungs, and elsewhere. Untreated, mortality is approximately 50%. For pneumonic plague the incubation period is 2-3 days. Disease symptoms include high fever, chills, headache, spitting blood, and toxemia, progressing rapidly to shortness of breath; high-pitched, noisy breathing; and dark blue or purple skin color due to insufficient oxygen in the blood. Death results from respiratory failure, circulatory collapse, and internal bleeding. Untreated, mortality is 100%.[142]

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