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Yersinia pestis PCR test

primate assay data sheet

Yersinia pestis (Plague)

Test code: B0065 - Ultrasensitive qualitative detection of Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of plague, by real time polymerase chain reaction.

Yersinia pestis is a gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium belonging to the family Enterobacteriaceae. Formerly called Pasteurella pestis, it is a facultative anaerobe that can infect humans and other animals. Stained, it has a “safety pin” appearance.

Three main forms of infection can occur in humans, referred to as pneumonic plague, septicemic plague and bubonic plague. All three forms have caused high mortality rates in epidemics throughout human history, including the Black Death (the bubonic form) that accounted for the death of at least one-third of the European population in 1347 to 1353.

Rodents are a common reservoir of these bacteria; their fleas help disseminate the disease. When primates live in close proximity to infected rodents, the bacteria can pass to primates via flea bites. Once the bacteria enter the bloodstream, they migrate to the lymph nodes. The ability of Yersinia pestis to inhibit phagocytosis allows it to avoid destruction by immune system cells such as macrophages and thereby to proliferate in lymph nodes, causing lymphadenopathy.

Airborne transmission to humans results in pneumonic plague, whereas patients infected by the bubonic or septicemic forms seldom exhibit pneumonic characteristics. After an incubation period, patients with pneumonic plague show sudden onset of coughing, high temperature, and lack of energy; these symptoms increase in severity over time. Due to its high replication rates, plague proves fatal in roughly 50% of human cases even with medical treatment, and is almost universally fatal without treatment.

Traditionally, the "gold standard" for testing fleas for Y. pestis infection has been the inoculation of mice with ground flea suspensions. Inoculated mice are monitored for death, which usually takes at least 21 days; tissues from these dead mice are then tested by fluorescent antibody analysis for evidence of Y. pestis infection. This testing approach, however, requires considerable time and personnel involvement. False negative results can occur when death is used as the assay endpoint, because some mice occasionally survive the infection. Molecular detection is a rapid, sensitive, specific and safer alternative for identification of Y. pestis.


  • Help confirm the disease causing agent
  • Shorten the time required to confirm a clinical diagnosis of Y. pestis infection.
  • Help ensure that primate colonies and populations are free of these bacteria
  • Early prevention of spread of these bacteria among a colony
  • Minimize personnel exposure to these bacteria
  • Safety monitoring of biological products that derive from primates

Engelthaler, D.M., Gage, K.L., Montenieri, J.A., Chu, M. and Carter, L.G. (1999) PCR Detection of Yersinia pestis in fleas: Comparison with mouse inoculation. J. Clin. Microbiol., 37:1980-1984.

Specimen requirements: 0.2 ml whole blood in EDTA (purple top) tube, or nasal swab, or skin swab, or lesion swab.

Contact Zoologix if advice is needed to determine an appropriate specimen type for a specific diagnostic application. For specimen types not listed here, please contact Zoologix to confirm specimen acceptability and shipping instructions.

For all specimen types, if there will be a delay in shipping, or during very warm weather, refrigerate specimens until shipped and ship with a cold pack unless more stringent shipping requirements are specified. Frozen specimens should be shipped so as to remain frozen in transit. See shipping instructions for more information.

Turnaround time: 2 business days

Methodology: Qualitative real time PCR

Normal range: Nondetected

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