In Oregon, health officials have confirmed the state’s first case of bubonic plague since 2015. The individual was likely infected by a symptomatic pet cat, according to Deschutes County officials. All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness, said county health officer Dr. Richard Fawcett.
Despite the case being caught early, it still poses little risk to the community as no additional cases have been reported so far. Plague is caused by a bacteria found in small mammals and their fleas, according to the World Health Organization. Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease and can be spread through the bite of an infected flea or contact with an infected animal.
In Central Oregon, squirrels and chipmunks most often carry the disease, but mice and other rodents can also carry plague, health officials said. Symptoms typically appear two to eight days after a person is exposed to an infected animal or flea. They include fever, headache, chills, weakness and one or more swollen, painful lymph nodes called buboes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Deschutes County health officials warned that bubonic plague can develop into septicemic plague, a bloodstream infection or pneumonic plague if it’s not diagnosed early. Both forms are more severe and difficult to treat than the bubonic form. To prevent the spread of this disease, officials urged people to avoid contact with rodents – including those that are sick or dead – while outdoors in areas where they may be present. They suggested keeping pets on leashes while outside and using flea control products to reduce the possibility that they get fleas too.
Pet cats are particularly susceptible to plague and should be discouraged from hunting rodents if possible,” advised health officials in Deschutes County . It’s worth noting that Plague was first introduced to North America by rat-infested steamships arriving from Asia in 1900 according CDC records