In an unexpected turn of events, Oregon has reported its first human case of bubonic plague in almost ten years, with health officials pointing to a probable transmission from an infected pet cat. The incident, highlighted by the New York Post, underscores the rarity of bubonic plague cases in the United States, particularly in more urbanized areas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the bubonic plague, known for its historical devastation in 14th-century Europe, is an uncommon occurrence in the US, with an average of 5 to 15 cases annually, mostly concentrated in the Western region. Typically found in rural to semi-rural areas where wild rodents thrive, the disease has made a resurgence in central Oregon.
The affected individual, described as a ‘local resident’ of Deschutes County, has reportedly contracted the plague from their pet cat, as per health officials. The cat, showing symptoms, is the only other known case related to this incident. Deschutes County Health Officer Dr. Richard Fawcett assured that all close contacts of the resident and their pet have been identified and provided with medication to prevent the illness.
While the conditions of the infected person and their cat are currently undisclosed, officials emphasize that the case was diagnosed and treated early, minimizing the risk to the community. Early detection is crucial as symptoms of the bubonic plague, such as a high fever, lethargy, and swollen lymph nodes (buboes), typically manifest between two to eight days after exposure.
The bubonic plague is carried by wild rodents, such as squirrels and chipmunks, and their fleas. When an infected rodent succumbs to the illness, its fleas can transmit the infection through bites to other animals or humans. Although there is no vaccine available, the disease is treatable with antibiotics if caught in its early stages; however, it can be fatal if left untreated.
This marks the first confirmed case of bubonic plague in Oregon since 2015 when a teenage girl contracted the disease from a flea bite during a hunting trip. Since 1995, Oregon has seen only nine human cases of the plague, with no reported deaths.
Health officials are urging the public to exercise caution and avoid contact with wild rodents, particularly sick or deceased ones. Additionally, individuals are advised not to feed squirrels or chipmunks and to keep their pets away from potential sources of infection. Vigilance in these measures is crucial to preventing the spread of the bubonic plague in the region.