PUBLISHED: 22:29 EST, 29 April 2012 | UPDATED: 23:19 EST, 29 April 2012
US regulators have approved use of a powerful Johnson & Johnson antibiotic to treat plague, an extremely rare, sometimes-deadly bacterial infection.
The Food and Drug Administration also approved Levaquin, known generically as levofloxacin, to reduce risk of people getting plague after exposure to the bacteria that cause it.
Called Yersinia pestis, the bacteria are considered a potential bioterrorism agent.
Because of the potential for the plague to be used in a biological weapon, the government approached Johnson & Johnson and asked that the company pursue federal approval, the Newark Star-Ledger reported.
The case was especially rare because it never underwent a clinical trial of human plague patients. Instead, it was tested on African green monkeys.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases worked with Johnson & Johnson to study whether Levaquin could treat the plague.
The drug had been approved to fight off severe upper respiratory infections and Anthrax.
However, federal officials wanted FDA approval for the plague so they could begin administering it in case of an outbreak, the newspaper reports.
It is already a part of the federal drugs and vaccines stockpile.
Plague mainly occurs in animals. People can get it from bites from infected fleas or contact with infected animals or humans. About 1,000 to 2,000 human cases occur worldwide each year.
The FDA approved Levaquin for plague after tests on African green monkeys infected with the bacteria in a lab found 94 percent of the monkeys given Levaquin survived.
A variation of the plague was responsible the Black Death, which wiped out up to 200 million people in Europe and parts of Asia.
Experts say it wiped out as much as one quarter of the world’s population and 30 to 60 percent of Europeans.
The disease was carried and spread by rats aboard ships.