The state of Oregon is facing a case of the bubonic plague, as health officials in Deschutes County announced that an unidentified resident has been diagnosed with the disease. This marks the first human case of the plague in Oregon in over eight years. Officials believe that the individual was most likely infected by their cat.
Deschutes County Health Services Officer Dr. Richard Fawcett stated that all close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness. The disease is commonly spread through a bite from an infected flea or contact with an infected animal, but human-to-human transmission can occur, albeit it’s rare.
The early identification and swift treatment of the Oregon case have minimized any risk to the community, and no other cases have been reported in the state as of yet, according to health officials. The last case of the plague in Oregon was reported in 2015.
The bubonic plague is infamous for killing more than a third of Europe’s population—around 25 million people—from 1347 to 1351. However, with modern antibiotics, it is now easily treatable if not treated quickly. Symptoms usually appear between two to eight days after exposure to an infected animal or flea and can include fever, nausea, weakness, chills, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes called buboes.
In recent years, plague infections have continued to occur mostly in rural parts of the West—particularly New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado—with over 1000 confirmed or probable cases reported in the United States between 1900 and 2012. An average of seven human plague cases are reported each year in the U.S., though this number is much higher worldwide according to CDC data.
Deschutes County Health Services recommends several measures for preventing plague infection: keeping pets on a leash when outdoors; avoiding feeding squirrels or chipmunks; using insect repellent; wearing long pants and sleeves when working or hiking in areas where plagues are known to exist; and avoiding handling sick animals or picking up after them without proper protection