Preventing Plague

Key points

  • People who live in areas where plague occurs can take several steps to reduce their risk of becoming infected.
  • People usually get plague after being bitten by an infected rodent flea or by handling an infected animal.
Insect repellent being sprayed on a person's arm.

Prevention tips

  1. Reduce rodent habitat around your home, workplace, and recreational areas. Remove brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood, and possible rodent food supplies, such as pet and wild animal food. Make your home and outbuildings rodent-proof.
  2. Wear gloves if you are handling or skinning potentially infected animals to prevent contact between your skin and the plague bacteria. Contact your local health department if you have questions about disposal of dead animals.
  3. Use repellent if you think you could be exposed to fleas during activities such as camping, hiking, or working outdoors. Products containing DEET can be applied to the skin as well as clothing and products containing permethrin can be applied to clothing (always follow instructions on the label).
  4. Keep fleas off of your pets by applying flea control products. Animals that roam freely are more likely to come in contact with plague infected animals or fleas and could bring them into homes. If your pet becomes sick, seek care from a veterinarian as soon as possible.
  5. Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free in endemic areas to sleep on your bed.

Note: A plague vaccine is no longer available in the United States. New plague vaccines are in development but are not expected to be commercially available in the immediate future.

Rat Catchers in New Orleans; Group portrait of nine men standing behind a makeshift table
Kettles, buckets, lanterns, and other equipment were used in catching rats during the Public Health Service campaign against the New Orleans plague epidemic of 1914-1920. (Library of Medicine)