Plague is a potentially dangerous reemerging disease. Because modern outbreaks are relatively infrequent, data for epidemiologic study are best found in historical accounts. In 1905, the Rand Plague Committee published a report describing an explosive outbreak of 113 cases of pneumonic plague that occurred in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1904. Using these data, we investigated social, spatial, and temporal dynamics and quantified transmissibility as measured by the time-varying reproduction number. Risk for transmission was highest when friends, family members, and caregivers approached the sick. Reproduction numbers were 2-4. Transmission rates rapidly diminished after implementation of control measures, including isolation and safer burial practices. A contemporaneous smaller bubonic plague outbreak associated with a low-key epizootic of rats also occurred. Clusters of cases of pneumonic plague were mostly limited to the Indian community; cases of bubonic plague were mostly associated with white communities and their black African servants.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was partially funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London and in Modelling Methodology at Imperial College London, both in partnership with Public Health England.