A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague 2 to 6 days after being infected. When bubonic plague is left untreated, plague bacteria invade the bloodstream. When plague bacteria multiply in the bloodstream, they spread rapidly throughout the body and cause a severe and often fatal condition. Infection of the lungs with the plague bacterium causes the pneumonic form of plague, a severe respiratory illness. The infected person may experience high fever, chills, cough, and breathing difficulty, and expel bloody sputum. If plague patients are not given specific antibiotic therapy, the disease can progress rapidly to death.
The incubation period of primary pneumonic plague is 1 to 3 days and is characterized by development of an overwhelming pneumonia with high fever, cough, bloody sputum, and chills. For plague pneumonia patients, the death rate is over 50%.