In Oregon, health officials have confirmed the state’s first case of bubonic plague since 2015. This case was caught early and poses little risk to the community. Deschutes County officials announced last week that the person was likely infected by a symptomatic pet cat. No additional cases have been reported, and all close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness.
Plague is a bacterial disease caused by Yersinia pestis, which is found in small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and other rodents. Their fleas can also carry the bacteria. The World Health Organization notes that bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease and can be spread through a bite from an infected animal or flea or by touching an animal carcass contaminated with the bacteria.
Symptoms typically appear two to eight days after exposure to an infected animal or flea. They include fever, headache, chills, weakness, and one or more swollen lymph nodes called buboes. Bubonic plague can develop into septicemic plague or pneumonic plague if not diagnosed early. Both forms are more severe and difficult to treat than bubonic plague.
To prevent the spread of plague, officials urge people to avoid contact with rodents, including those that are sick or dead. They recommend keeping pets on leashes while outdoors and using flea control products to reduce the possibility that they get fleas from rodents or other animals. Pet cats are particularly susceptible to plague and should be discouraged from hunting rodents if possible.
The first case of plague in Oregon was introduced by rat-infested steamships that arrived in 1900 from Asia Pacific countries like Japan or Korea. Today, most cases occur in parts of New Mexico, Arizona