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Approval of Antibiotic Leads to New Treatment for Plague

As of April 27, 2012 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the Johnson & Johnson manufactured antibiotic Levaquin | levofloxacin for the treatment of plague, an extremely rare but potentially deadly disease. Levaquin is a synthetic antibiotic, from a class of medications known as fluoroquinolones, that works to disrupt enzymes which the bacterial infection uses to multiply. Plague can be transmitted through contact with an infected party, such as a flea, animal, or human, and has three common forms which are:

  • bubonic
  • pneumonic
  • septicemic

Levaquin has also been approved to decrease the risk of patients contracting plague after being exposed to the bacteria Yersinia pestis, which causes the infection.

With less than 2,000 cases reported annually, plague is far from being the epidemic it was in the past. However, fear of the Yersinia pestis bacteria being used as a biological weapon prompted the government to spurn Johnson & Johnson to seek federal approval. The rarity and potential danger of plague made it difficult for Johnson & Johnson to conduct effective, ethical trial studies on human, prompting the manufacturer to turn to well-controlled animal studies. After infecting African green monkeys with the Yersinia pestis bacteria, subjects were randomly chosen to receive 10-day Levaquin treatments, with the goal being survival at the end of the study. With a 94 percent survival rate in those monkeys infected by the plague and treated with Levaquin, the medication was finally subject for approval.

Levaquin has been shown to cause common side effects such as

  • nausea
  • headache
  • diarrhea
  • insomnia
  • constipation
  • dizziness

Levaquin has also been shown to cause rare but serious side effects such as

  • tendinitis
  • tendon rupture
  • deteriorating muscle weakness in patients suffering from the neuromuscular disorder myasthenia gravis
  • allergic reaction
  • liver damage
  • blood abnormalities
  • negative side effects to the nervous system
  • irregular heart beat

With its approval, Levaquin has joined several other antibacterials, such as doxycycline, streptomycin, and tetracycline, in the frontline of defense against life-threatening disease.