Oregon Resident Contracts Rare Bubonic Plague from Pet Cat

cat bubonic plague

In a startling incident in central Oregon, a pet owner has been diagnosed with the bubonic plague, a disease that harks back to the Middle Ages. 

Health officials believe the resident contracted the rare illness from their symptomatic pet cat, marking a rare occurrence of the plague in modern times.

Deschutes County Health Services confirmed the diagnosis last week, noting that this is the first case of bubonic plague in Oregon since 2015. The state’s health authority has described the plague as “rare” within the region. Fortunately, the case was identified and treated in its early stages, significantly reducing the risk to the community at large.

The Connection to the Pet Cat

According to a press release issued on February 7 by Deschutes County Health Services, the infected resident likely acquired the plague from their cat. “All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness,” stated Dr. Richard Fawcett, Deschutes County health officer. This swift action underscores the seriousness with which health officials are treating the case, despite the plague’s rarity.

Understanding Bubonic Plague Transmission

The bubonic plague can spread to humans and animals through a bite from an infected flea or direct contact with an animal sick with the disease. This mode of transmission harks back to the disease’s historical spread. The plague was not fully understood until well after it caused millions of deaths in Europe during the Middle Ages.

To prevent further spread of the plague, Deschutes County Health Services has issued advisories urging residents to avoid contact with rodents and their fleas and to prevent pets from approaching or touching sick, injured, or dead rodents.

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of the bubonic plague may manifest two to eight days after exposure. They include fever, nausea, weakness, chills, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes known as buboes. Despite its severity, the plague is treatable with antibiotics if caught early. Without treatment, however, it can still be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Historical Context and Modern Occurrences

The bubonic plague decimated populations in the Middle Ages before the advent of antibiotics. Its transmission through fleas on rats was a critical discovery that helped manage outbreaks in later centuries. The United States first encountered the plague in 1900 through rat-infested steamships, with most occurrences now in the western regions of the country.

In recent history, a California resident tested positive for the plague in August 2020. That was the first case in the state in five years. This individual, an avid walker from South Lake Tahoe, likely encountered an infected flea while walking their dog. The incident highlighted the continued presence and risk of the disease in certain environments.

A Reminder of Vigilance

The case in Oregon serves as a reminder of the importance of vigilance against diseases thought relegated to history. With the right precautions and swift medical responses, communities can manage these rare but serious illnesses. This is important to ensure public health and safety in the face of age-old threats that linger in the modern world.

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