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Wed 16
Suspected case of bubonic plague in Rio de Janeiro causes alert; understand the disease

Suspected case of bubonic plague in Rio de Janeiro causes alert; understand the disease

Transmitted by rodents, the disease had its last case in Brazil in 2005, in the state of Ceará

Roberta Braga

The case of a 57-year-old patient diagnosed with having the Yersinia pestis bacteria in the city of São Gonçalo (RJ) last weekend, brought along with it a concern that was thought to be in the past: the bubonic plague, also known as Black Death. The patient went into the hospital with cardiac insufficiency on December 22 and, since he had a wound in his leg, had a sample of his skin removed and sent for examination.

The result identified the presence of the Yersinia pestis bacteria, which causes three different diseases, among them the bubonic plague. The patient is being treated with antibiotics and kept in isolation for precaution. “That is necessary because the bacteria may circulate through bodily fluids,” points out doctor Ligia Pierotti, an ID specialist at DASS.


The Ministry of Health ruled out on Monday (14) a bubonic plague infection in the patient. The prognosis was given after the state’s Public Health Central Lab (LACEN) reanalyzed the sample and identified the Morganella morganni bacteria, common in the environment, which does not cause infections in individuals with good immunity.

Some laboratorial samples were collected and should arrive on Monday at the Aggeu Magalhães Research Institute (Fiocruz Pernambuco) for further analyses and to close the investigation.

What is the bubonic plague?

The bubonic plague is a disease spread by the Yersinia pestis bacteria, present in rodents, and humans get contaminated after being bitten by fleas infected by the rodents. The last case registered in Brazil was in the state of Ceará, in 2005. In the Middle Ages, an outbreak of bubonic plague killed almost 30 percent of the European population. The last major outbreak happened in India, in the 19th century. At the time, there were no antibiotics for the treatment of the disease. The swelling and the increase in sensitivity of the ganglia – especially in areas of the body such as the groin, armpits, and headaches – are the main symptoms. High fever, shivers, and headaches are usually reported. “It is a serious disease, with a high mortality rate, but when diagnosed early can be easily treated with antibiotics,” explains Ligia Pierotti.

The doctor also explains that there is no reason for concern, since it’s an isolated case, still under investigation, and points out that Brazil is constantly under surveillance for plague symptoms, and suspected cases must mandatorily be notified.


  • Increase in size and sensitivity of the ganglia
  • High fever
  • Shivers
  • Headache



Suspeita de caso de peste bubônica no RJ causa alerta; entenda a doença


Transmitida por roedores, a doença teve último caso no Brasil em 2005, no estado do Ceará”