Oregon's First Case of Bubonic Plague in Nearly 10 Years May Have Been Transmitted by a Cat

This is the first human case of the plague reported in Oregon since 2015

<p>Getty</p> Stock image of a cat


Stock image of a cat

On Feb. 7, Deschutes County Health Services confirmed Oregon's first reported case of the bubonic plague found in a human in nearly a decade. The plague is believed to have been transmitted by the patient's pet cat.

Dr. Richard Fawcett, a health officer for Deschutes County, told NBC News that the cat was "very sick," and had a draining abscess, which suggested the feline had "a fairly substantial" infection. Everyone who has been in close contact with the patient or their pet has been contacted and "provided medication to prevent illness," per the health services' release.

People who are exposed to the plague generally begin experiencing symptoms — including swollen lymph nodes (buboes), fever, nausea, weakness, chills and muscle aches — within two to eight days of exposure. In the case of the Oregon patient, diagnosis and treatment began quickly, which the county's health services said makes the likelihood of more cases appearing in the area unlikely.

Dr. Fawcett also told NBC News that the patient responded "very well to antibiotic treatment."

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Modern day cases of the plague are rare, and, thanks to antibiotics, it's far less deadly for humans than it once was — although, it does become more serious the longer it goes untreated. David Wagner, director of the Biodefense and Disease Ecology Center at Northern Arizona University’s Pathogen and Microbiome Institute told the outlet, "It’s the same thing that caused the Black Death, but that was in the pre-antibiotic era. Now it’s very easily treated with simple antibiotics."

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The plague is most often transmitted via flea bites or from contact with an infected animal. Mice, squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents are the most likely animals to transmit the disease. The county advised avoiding contact with rodents and fleas as much as possible, as well as discouraging pet cats from hunting rodents.

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Additionally, pet owners should keep their animals on leashes when outdoors, administer flea treatments and take pets to the vet if they do come into contact with a dead rodent. People should also avoid feeding squirrels and chipmunks, stay away from other wild rodents and take measures to prevent flea bites when outdoors.

According to the CDC, around seven bubonic plague cases are reported each year in the United States, with the majority of cases originating in "northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern Oregon and far western Nevada."

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