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‘Very sick’ pet cat reported case of bubonic plague to Oregon resident

Enlarge / A cat, but not the one with the plague.

An Oregon resident contracted bubonic plague from his “very sick” cat, marking the first time since 2015 that a person in the state has had the Black Death bacteria, according to local health officials. health.

Plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, circulates enigmatically in the United States among various types of rodents and their fleas. It causes an average of seven human cases per year, with a range of 1 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases tend to cluster in two regions, the CDC notes: a hot spot stretching from northern New Mexico, northern Arizona and southern Colorado, and another region spanning the California, far western Nevada and southern Oregon.

The new case in Oregon occurred in central Deschutes County. Fortunately, it was detected early before the infection developed into a more serious systemic blood infection (septicemic plague). However, according to a local official who spoke to NBC News, some doctors believed the person developed a cough while being treated at the hospital. This could indicate a progression to pneumonic plague, a deadlier and more easily contagious variety of plague that spreads through respiratory droplets. However, this person’s case reportedly responded well to antibiotic treatment and the person recovered.

Health officials have worked to prevent the spread of the disease. “All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and given medications to prevent illness,” Deschutes County Health Officer Richard Fawcett said in a news release.

Fawcett told NBC News the cat was “very sick” and had a draining abscess, indicating a “pretty significant” infection. The person could have become infected by plague-infected fleas from the cat or by directly handling the sick cat or its bodily fluids. Symptoms usually develop two to eight days after exposure, when infection occurs in the lymph nodes. Early symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, nausea, weakness, chills, muscle pain, and/or visibly swollen lymph nodes called buboes. If left untreated, the infection progresses to septicemic or pneumonic forms.

It is not known how or why the cat became infected. But cats are particularly susceptible to plague and are considered a common source of infection in the United States. Animals, when left to roam outdoors, can contract flea infections as well as kill and eat infected rodents. Although dogs can also get the infection from fleas or other animals, they are less likely to develop clinical illness, according to the CDC.

Although cases of plague are generally rare in the United States, the Deschutes County Health Department has offered general advice to avoid contracting the deadly bacteria, including: avoiding contact with fleas and rodents, especially those who are sick, injured or dead; Keep pets on a leash and protected with flea control products; Work to keep rodents away from homes and other buildings; and avoid areas with lots of rodents while camping and hiking and wear insect repellent outdoors to keep fleas away.

According to the CDC, there were 496 cases of plague in the United States between 1970 and 2020. And between 2000 and 2020, the CDC counted 14 deaths.

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