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Oregon’s first bubonic plague case in nearly a decade likely came from pet cat

oregon’s-first-bubonic-plague-case-in-nearly-a-decade-likely-came-from-pet-cat
Oregon’s first bubonic plague case in nearly a decade likely came from pet cat

An Oregonian came down with the bubonic plague for the first time in nearly a decade — and was likely infected by their cat.

The “local resident” of Deschutes County — a rural part of central Oregon — is believed to be the only person infected, health officials announced Wednesday.

Other than the symptomatic pet, that is.

“All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness,” Deschutes County Health Officer Dr. Richard Fawcett said in a statement.

The person and their cat’s conditions are not yet known, but officials said the case was diagnosed and treated early, posing little risk to the community.  

The bubonic plague — famous for ravaging Europe in the 14th century — is carried by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas. When an infected rodent becomes sick and dies, its fleas can carry the infection to other animals or humans through bites.

Those infected come down with high fever, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes called buboes. Symptoms arise between two to eight days after exposure.

Bubonic plague bacteria Yersinia pestis. 3D illustration shows bipolar staining and ovoid shape of bacteria.
An Oregonian contracted the bubonic plague, officials confirmed this week. Dr_Microbe – stock.adobe.com

While there is no vaccine, the plague is treatable with antibiotics if caught early. It can be fatal if left untreated.

The confirmed case is the first to hit the state since 2015, when a teenage girl contracted the disease from a flea bite during a hunting trip.

There have only been nine human cases of the plague in Oregon since 1995, with no reported deaths.

Little fluffy kitten on a gray background
Officials said the person was “likely” infected by their pet cat. fantom_rd – stock.adobe.com

Contracting the bubonic plague is extremely rare in the US, with an average of 5 to 15 cases occurring each year in the West, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease is typically found in rural to semi-rural areas where wild rodents are more common.

Officials recommend people avoid any contact with wild rodents, especially sick or dead ones, and should never feed squirrels or chipmunks. People should also keep their pets away from wild rodents to avoid infection.

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