Bubonic Plague Has Resurfaced in Oregon

A case of bubonic plague has been reported in an Oregon resident for the first time since 2015, according to officials.

While the plague is most known for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages, the disease is still around to this day: Deschutes County Health Services has reported one case in an Oregon resident this month.

Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, humans typically get plague by being bitten by an infected flea or exposed to an infected animal. In this case, health officials said the individual was likely infected by their symptomatic pet cat. The patient is being treated with antibiotics, which are effective at treating the disease when administered early enough.

“All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness,” said Dr. Richard Fawcett, Deschutes County Health Officer, in a statement.

Symptoms of bubonic plague typically take between two and eight days to appear, and they include fever, headache, chills, weakness, and one or more swollen, painful lymph nodes (called buboes). This is because the bacteria multiply in a lymph node near where they entered the body.

Bubonic plague is the most treatable form of plague. However, if it’s not diagnosed and treated early, it can progress to septicemic plague or pneumonic plague. The latter is the most serious form of the disease and is the only form of plague that can be spread from person to person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Fortunately, this case was identified and treated in the earlier stages of the disease, posing little risk to the community,” health officials said. “No additional cases of plague have emerged during the communicable disease investigation.”

The most common animals to carry plague in Central Oregon, according to health officials, are squirrels and chipmunks, but mice and other rodents can also carry the disease. Still, the disease remains rare in the state, with the last case in Oregon reported in 2015.

To prevent the spreading of plague, individuals are encouraged to:

  • Avoid all contact with rodents and their fleas.

  • Keep pets on a leash when outdoors and protect them with flea control products.

  • Discourage cats’ hunting of rodents.

  • Keep wild rodents out of homes.

  • Avoid sleeping or resting near animal burrows or areas where dead rodents are observed.

  • Refrain from feeding wild rodents in campgrounds and picnic areas.

  • Wear long pants tucked into boot tops to reduce exposure to fleas and apply insect repellent to socks and trouser cuffs to help reduce exposure to fleas.

Plague infections continue to occur in rural areas in the western United States, according to the CDC, but they are significantly more common in parts of Africa and Asia.

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