Oregon Reports First Human Plague Case in Eight Years, Suspected to Originate from a Pet Cat

by | Feb 12, 2024 | News

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In a recent incident within Oregon, a resident came down with the bubonic plague after exposure to their seriously ill pet cat, marking the state's first encounter with the disease since 2015, local health authorities report.

Yersinia pestis, the bacterium responsible for the plague, is subtly present across the U.S., primarily within various rodents and their fleas. On average, this results in about seven reported human cases annually, fluctuating between one and seventeen cases, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC highlights two main areas prone to these outbreaks: one covers parts of northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, and southern Colorado, while the other stretches through California, far western Nevada, and into southern Oregon.

This recent case emerged in Deschutes County, located in central Oregon. Thankfully, the diagnosis was made early enough to prevent the disease from evolving into a more serious form, such as septicemic plague, which affects the bloodstream. Nonetheless, a local health official mentioned to NBC News that there were concerns the individual might have begun to show symptoms of pneumonic plague, a more severe and highly transmissible form of the disease that spreads through respiratory droplets. Fortunately, the patient responded positively to antibiotics and is on the mend.

Efforts were promptly made to halt any further transmission of the disease. Richard Fawcett, a Health Officer for Deschutes County, announced that medication had been provided to both the patient's close contacts and their pet to forestall any further cases.

The cat, described as being "very sick" with a draining abscess, likely suffered from a significant infection. The resident could have contracted the plague either through fleas that had fed on the infected cat or through direct contact with the cat's fluids. Symptoms can appear anywhere from two to eight days post-exposure, initiating in the lymph nodes. Early signs include sudden fever, nausea, fatigue, chills, muscle pains, and swollen lymph nodes, known as buboes. Without treatment, the disease can advance to more lethal forms.

The precise cause of the cat's infection remains a mystery. However, cats are known to be particularly vulnerable to the plague and often serve as a conduit for the disease in the U.S. They can contract the infection from fleas or by preying on and consuming infected rodents. While dogs can also become infected in a similar manner, they are less likely to show symptoms, according to the CDC.

Despite being relatively uncommon in the U.S., the Deschutes County Health Services has issued guidelines to help prevent plague transmission. These include avoiding contact with fleas and rodents, especially if they are sick or dead; keeping pets leashed and using flea prevention treatments; securing homes against rodent invasions; and wearing insect repellent to protect against flea bites while enjoying outdoor activities.

From 1970 to 2020, the CDC has recorded 496 cases of plague in the U.S., with 14 fatalities reported between 2000 and 2020.

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Written By Tyler James

Tyler James, founder of That Oregon Life, is a true Oregon native whose love for his state runs deep. Since the inception of the blog in 2013, his unbridled passion for outdoor adventures and the natural beauty of Oregon has been the cornerstone of his work. As a father to two beautiful children, Tyler is always in pursuit of new experiences to enrich his family’s life. He curates content that not only reflects his adventures but also encourages others to set out and create precious memories in the majestic landscapes of Oregon. Tyler's vision and guidance are integral to his role as publisher and editor, shaping the blog into a source of inspiration for exploring the wonders of Oregon.

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