Oregon resident caught bubonic plague, likely from cat, health officials say

Health officials in Oregon have confirmed the state’s first case of bubonic plague since 2015.

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The person “was likely infected by their symptomatic pet cat,” Deschutes County officials said in a statement issued last week.

“All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness,” county health officer Dr. Richard Fawcett said Wednesday.

The case was caught early and poses “little risk to the community,” officials said. No additional cases have been reported.

Plague is caused by a bacteria found in small mammals and their fleas, according to the World Health Organization. Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease and can be spread through the bite of an infected flea or contact with an infected animal.

In Central Oregon, squirrels and chipmunks most often carry the disease. However, health officials said that mice and other rodents can also carry plague.

Symptoms typically appear two to eight days after a person is exposed to an infected animal or flea. They include fever, headache, chills, weakness and one or more swollen, painful lymph nodes called buboes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deschutes County health officials said that bubonic plague can develop into septicemic plague, a bloodstream infection, or pneumonic plague, a lung infection, if it’s not diagnosed early. Both forms “are more severe and difficult to treat.”

To prevent the spread of the plague, officials urged people to avoid contact with rodents, including those that are sick, injured or dead. They suggested keeping pets on leashes while outdoors and using flea control products to reduce the possibility that they get fleas.

Pet cats are particularly susceptible to plague and should be discouraged from hunting rodents, if possible, health officials said.

Plague was first introduced to the U.S. by rat-infested steamships that sailed to the country in 1900, according to the CDC. Most cases are reported in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon and Nevada.

A majority of cases — more than 80% — involve the bubonic form of the plague. About seven new cases are reported each year, CDC numbers show.

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