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Oregon Confirmed a Human Case of the Bubonic Plague

A case of the bubonic plague has hit Oregon, and the likely cause was a cat.

Health officials in Deschutes County announced last week that a resident, who has not been identified, had been diagnosed with the plague, in the state’s first human case in eight years. The individual was likely infected by their cat, the department says.

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

The disease is often spread through a bite from an infected flea or contact with an infected animal. Human to human transmission can occur, but is rare. 

The Oregon case was identified early and the person was treated swiftly, according to officials. They added the case doesn’t pose a significant risk to the community, and no other cases have been reported in the state, according to health officials. The last case of the plague in Oregon was reported in 2015.

Though the plague is infamous for killing more than a third of Europe’s population—about 25 million people—from 1347 to 1351, it’s now easily treatable with modern antibiotics. However, if not treated quickly, the disease can progress to infection in the bloodstream and lungs and cause serious illness and death.

In humans, symptoms usually appear between two to eight days after exposure to an infected animal or flea. Symptoms can include a sudden onset of fever, nausea, weakness, chills, muscle aches, and, most commonly, visibly swollen lymph nodes called buboes.  

In the U.S. plague infections continue to occur in rural parts of the West—particularly in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. Between 1900 and 2012, 1006 confirmed or probable human plague cases occurred in the United States, over 80% of which have been the bubonic form. In recent decades, an average of seven human plague cases are reported each year in the U.S., the CDC says, though the number is much higher worldwide.

Deschutes County Health Services recommended several plague-preventing measures—including keeping pets on a leash when outdoors, and refraining from feeding squirrels, chipmunks, or other wild rodents. 

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