|Description:||This historic 1954 photograph depicts Dr. Harold E. Stark while he was performing a taxonomic analysis of fleas captured during a plague investigation.|
At the time, Dr. Stark was a staff scientist at the former San Francisco, California, Public Health Service, Communicable Disease Center, Plague Laboratory.
The Communicable Disease Center (CDC) was a branch of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which was a branch of the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). Retaining its acronym, in 1970 the CDC was renamed to the Center for Disease Control, and in 1979, HEW was renamed the Department of Health and Human Services.
Plague is an infectious disease of animals and humans caused by a bacterium named Yersinia pestis. People usually get plague from being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an infected animal. Millions of people in Europe died from plague in the Middle Ages, when human homes and places of work were inhabited by flea-infested rats. Today, modern antibiotics are effective against plague, but if an infected person is not treated promptly, the disease is likely to cause illness or death.