In Oregon, a case of human plague has been reported, the first in the state in about eight years. Officials from Deschutes County stated that the patient was likely infected by their pet cat, which had developed symptoms.
Plague is a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which affects humans and other mammals. Humans typically contract the disease when bitten by a rodent flea carrying the plague bacterium, or when handling animals infected with plague.
Officials noted that plague occurrences in Oregon are rare, with the last case reported in 2015. Squirrels and chipmunks are the main carriers of plague in Central Oregon, although mice and other rodents can also transmit the disease.
„All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided with preventative medications,“ said Dr. Richard Fawcett, Deschutes County Health Officer, in a press release.
Types of Plague:
Plague can manifest in three clinical forms: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic. Bubonic plague, characterized by swollen lymph nodes, is the most common form of plague and generally has the highest survival rate. It typically arises from the bite of an infected flea.
Septicemic plague occurs when the bacteria enter the bloodstream, leading to tissue destruction, gangrene, and organ failure. This can develop from untreated bubonic plague.
On the other hand, pneumonic plague arises when the bacterium infects the lungs. It is the rarest but most dangerous form of plague. If the infected person develops plague pneumonia, they can release droplets of plague bacteria into the air through coughing. Inhaling these bacteria-laden droplets can lead to pneumonic plague and is the only method by which plague spreads between people. However, direct and close contact with the infected person is typically required.
The signs of the disease depend on the type of plague. Patients with bubonic plague may develop fever, headache, chills, fatigue, and swollen and painful lymph nodes (called buboes). Those with septicemic plague may experience symptoms such as fever, chills, severe weakness, abdominal pain, shock, and skin bleeding. Additionally, the skin and other tissue, especially on fingers, toes, and nose, can darken and undergo necrosis. Patients with pneumonic plague may suffer from shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever, headache, and weakness.
Although a severe illness, plague can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Patients who seek prompt and appropriate treatment have a better chance of complete recovery. Those who have had close contact with severely ill pneumonic plague patients may be examined and potentially observed. Depending on the type and timing of their personal contact, they may also be given preventative antibiotic therapy.
In the United States, there is no vaccine to prevent plague. However, the disease can be prevented through the following simple measures:
- Keep the home and surroundings free of rodents.
- Use rodent repellent when exposed to rodent fleas during outdoor activities like camping or hiking.
- Protect pets from fleas. Seek immediate veterinary care if pets become ill.
- Wear protective gloves when handling or skinning infected animals.