In Oregon, health officials have confirmed the state’s first case of bubonic plague since 2015. This was announced last week, and the individual “was likely infected by their symptomatic pet cat,” Deschutes County officials stated in a press release. The case was identified early and poses little risk to the community, officials said. No additional cases have been reported.
According to Deschutes County health officer Dr. Richard Fawcett, all close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness. Plague is a bacterial disease that can be spread through the bite of an infected flea or contact with an infected animal. It’s caused by bacteria found in small mammals and their fleas, as per the World Health Organization (WHO).
In Central Oregon, squirrels and chipmunks are most commonly known to carry the disease, but mice and other rodents can also transmit it. Symptoms typically appear two to eight days after exposure to an infected animal or flea and include fever, headache, chills, weakness, and one or more swollen 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 than the initial form of the disease. To prevent spreading plague further, officials urged people to avoid contact with rodents entirely – including those that are sick or dead – while outdoors. They suggested keeping pets on leashes when outside and using flea control products on pets regularly to reduce the chances of fleas biting them. Pet cats are particularly susceptible to this disease; therefore owners should discourage them from hunting rodents whenever possible if they can do so safely