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May 27, 1983

The Fifth Plague of Egypt

Author Affiliations

Patchogue, NY

JAMA. 1983;249(20):2779-2780. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03330440019019

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To the Editor.—  The article by Gombert et al (1982;248:3005) suggests that the Fifth Plague of Egypt (Exodus 9:3-6) was caused by babesiosis. The plague is described as "a great murrain... and all the cattle of Egypt died."Babesiosis is caused by an intraerythrocytic protozoan and is insect borne. It would, therefore, not occur as a sudden massive epidemic.The most likely candidates for causing the plague are epidemic viral diseases, foot and mouth disease, and rinderpest; the latter two may occur as explosive outbreaks with mortality rates of up to 50%. Foot and mouth disease occurs throughout the world. Rinderpest is believed to have originated in eastern Europe or Asia and reached Africa in the second half of the 19th century. However, a prior epidemic of rinderpest cannot be excluded. The fact that neither of these diseases affects man is another argument in their favor.