Epidemiology and Infection

Disease transmission

Transmission dynamics of primary pneumonic plague in the USA

A. F. HINCKLEYa1 c1, B. J. BIGGERSTAFFa1, K. S. GRIFFITHa1 and P. S. MEADa1

a1 Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fort Collins, CO, USA

SUMMARY

Plague is thought to have killed millions during three catastrophic pandemics. Primary pneumonic plague, the most severe form of the disease, is transmissible from person-to-person and has the potential for propagating epidemics. Efforts to quantify its transmission potential have relied on published data from large outbreaks, an approach that artificially inflates the basic reproductive number (R0) and skews the distribution of individual infectiousness. Using data for all primary pneumonic plague cases reported in the USA from 1900 to 2009, we determined that the majority of cases will fail to transmit, even in the absence of antimicrobial treatment or prophylaxis. Nevertheless, potential for sustained outbreaks still exists due to superspreading events. These findings challenge current concepts regarding primary pneumonic plague transmission.

(Accepted June 06 2011)

(Online publication July 07 2011)

Correspondence:

c1 Author for correspondence: Dr A. F. Hinckley, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3150 Rampart Road, Fort Collins, CO 80521, USA. (Email: ahinckley@cdc.gov)

Metrics