Health officials in Oregon have confirmed the state’s first case of bubonic plague since 2015. The person was likely infected by their symptomatic pet cat, according to a statement issued by Deschutes County officials. All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness, the county health officer said.
The case was caught early and poses little risk to the community, officials said, and 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, though 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, and they include fever, headache, chills, weakness, and swollen, painful 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 of which are more severe and difficult to treat. To prevent the spread of the plague, officials recommend avoiding contact with rodents, keeping pets on leashes while outdoors, using flea control products, and discouraging pet cats from hunting rodents.
Plague was first introduced to the U.S. by rat-infested steamships that sailed to the country in 1900, and most cases are reported in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon, and Nevada. A majority of cases involve the bubonic form of the plague, and about seven new cases are reported each year, according to CDC numbers.