Rare Bubonic Plague Confirmed in Oregon: Health Officials Advise Precautions Amid Early Detection

Health officials say Oregon resident likely contracted bubonic plague from a cat

Bubonic plague, a disease caused by bacteria found in small mammals and their fleas, has been confirmed in Oregon for the first time since 2015. The person who contracted the illness was likely infected by their symptomatic pet cat, according to Deschutes County officials. The case was caught early and poses little risk to the community, with no additional cases reported.

All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness, county health officer Dr. Richard Fawcett said Wednesday. Plague is most commonly spread through the bite of an infected flea or contact with an infected animal, with squirrels and chipmunks most often carrying the disease in Central Oregon. However, mice and other rodents can also carry plague.

Symptoms typically appear two to eight days after a person is exposed to an infected animal or flea and include fever, headache, chills, weakness, and one or more swollen, painful lymph nodes called buboes. If not diagnosed early, bubonic plague can develop into septicemic plague, a bloodstream infection, or pneumonic plague, a lung infection – both forms are more severe and difficult to treat.

To prevent the spread of plague, officials urged people to avoid contact with rodents – including those that are sick, injured or dead – while outdoors. They suggested keeping pets on leashes while outdoors and using flea control products to reduce the possibility that they get fleas. Pet cats are particularly susceptible to plague and should be discouraged from hunting rodents if possible, health officials said.

Plague was first introduced to the U.S. by rat-infested steamships that sailed to the country in 1900. Most cases are reported in parts of New Mexico

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