Human Case of Rare Disease Confirmed

( – Thought to be a thing of the distant past, it has been recently revealed that the bubonic plague surprisingly continues to infect thousands globally every year despite being relatively uncommon in the U.S.

Even then, Oregon has just reported its first plague case in eight years and it is believed to have been transmitted by a domestic cat showing similar symptoms.

According to Oregon health officer Richard Fawcett on NBC News’s Aria Bendix, the patient became “very sick” with initial symptoms that mimic the flu, like tiredness, fever, chills and headaches. This particular case in Oregon developed into a “bubo,” which is a swollen abscess that is unusual in modern times.

Fortunately, the bacterium that causes the plague, called Yersinia pestis, typically infects small mammals and fleas and does not have to be fatal if treated promptly with current antibiotics.

Human infection can occur through flea bites, contact with contaminated fluids or airborne droplets that lead to various forms of the plague.

The bubonic plague is the most common and affects the lymphatic system, which causes swollen, painful lymph nodes that may turn into open sores. It then can progress to the lungs if untreated, which seemed a possibility for the Oregon patient who started coughing in the hospital.

The patient is reportedly improving with treatment and precautions have been taken to prevent further spread among close contacts. It is unclear how the cat transmitted the infection to its owner but it could have been through fleas bitten by infected fleas or through direct contact with the cat’s infected fluids.

The last Oregon case before this was in 2015 when a girl was infected on a hunting trip and required intensive care. No plague-related deaths have been reported in Oregon for decades.

Introduced to the U.S. in the early 20th century via rats on ships, the plague’s last urban epidemic in the country ended in 1925. However, it found a reservoir in rural rodents and occasionally causes outbreaks. In the U.S., plague cases are mostly reported in rural areas of the Midwest and Northwest and average about seven cases yearly.

Globally, the plague is found on every continent except Oceania, with regular occurrences in places where humans live close to animal reservoirs, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Peru. Outbreaks can be deadly and claim hundreds of lives.