Historical and genomic data reveal the influencing factors on global transmission velocity of plague during the Third Pandemic

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Jun 11;116(24):11833-11838. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1901366116. Epub 2019 May 28.


Quantitative knowledge about which natural and anthropogenic factors influence the global spread of plague remains sparse. We estimated the worldwide spreading velocity of plague during the Third Pandemic, using more than 200 years of extensive human plague case records and genomic data, and analyzed the association of spatiotemporal environmental factors with spreading velocity. Here, we show that two lineages, 2.MED and 1.ORI3, spread significantly faster than others, possibly reflecting differences among strains in transmission mechanisms and virulence. Plague spread fastest in regions with low population density and high proportion of pasture- or forestland, findings that should be taken into account for effective plague monitoring and control. Temperature exhibited a nonlinear, U-shaped association with spread speed, with a minimum around 20 °C, while precipitation showed a positive association. Our results suggest that global warming may accelerate plague spread in warm, tropical regions and that the projected increased precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere may increase plague spread in relevant regions.

Keywords: Third Pandemic; Yersinia pestis; climate change; global transmission velocity; historical and genomic data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Climate Change
  • Databases, Factual
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Genomics / methods
  • Humans
  • Pandemics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Plague / genetics*
  • Plague / transmission*
  • Virulence / genetics*
  • Yersinia pestis / genetics