Antibiotic Therapy of Plague: A Review

Biomolecules. 2021 May 12;11(5):724. doi: 10.3390/biom11050724.


Plague-a deadly disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis-is still an international public health concern. There are three main clinical forms: bubonic plague, septicemic plague, and pulmonary plague. In all three forms, the symptoms appear suddenly and progress very rapidly. Early antibiotic therapy is essential for countering the disease. Several classes of antibiotics (e.g., tetracyclines, fluoroquinolones, aminoglycosides, sulfonamides, chloramphenicol, rifamycin, and β-lactams) are active in vitro against the majority of Y. pestis strains and have demonstrated efficacy in various animal models. However, some discrepancies have been reported. Hence, health authorities have approved and recommended several drugs for prophylactic or curative use. Only monotherapy is currently recommended; combination therapy has not shown any benefits in preclinical studies or case reports. Concerns about the emergence of multidrug-resistant strains of Y. pestis have led to the development of new classes of antibiotics and other therapeutics (e.g., LpxC inhibitors, cationic peptides, antivirulence drugs, predatory bacteria, phages, immunotherapy, host-directed therapy, and nutritional immunity). It is difficult to know which of the currently available treatments or therapeutics in development will be most effective for a given form of plague. This is due to the lack of standardization in preclinical studies, conflicting data from case reports, and the small number of clinical trials performed to date.

Keywords: anti-virulence drugs; antimicrobial chemotherapy; host-directed therapies; immunotherapy; multidrug resistance; nutritional immunity; phage; plague; predatory bacteria; vaccine strain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Host Microbial Interactions
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Plague / drug therapy*
  • Plague / immunology
  • Plague / microbiology
  • Plague / prevention & control
  • Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Yersinia pestis / drug effects*
  • Yersinia pestis / immunology
  • Yersinia pestis / pathogenicity


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Vaccines