Oregon state health officials and the Crook County Public Health Department confirmed yesterday a human plague case in a Crook County teen. This is the 16th human plague case reported in the US in 2015.
The teenage girl is believed to have acquired the disease from a flea bite during a hunting trip near Heppner in Morrow County that started on Oct. 16. She reportedly fell ill on Oct. 21 and was hospitalized in Bend on Oct. 24. She is recovering in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Federal, state and local health officials are investigating the relatively rare illness. No other persons are believed to have been infected.
Plague is rare in Oregon and is treatable with antibiotics if caught early. Only eight human cases have been diagnosed in the state since 1995, and no deaths have been reported.
“Many people think of the plague as a disease of the past, but it’s still very much present in our environment, particularly among wildlife,” said Emilio DeBess, DVM, state public health veterinarian in the Public Health Division’s Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section. “Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way.”
DeBess recommends people avoid any contact with wild rodents. They should never feed squirrels, chipmunks or other rodents in picnic or campground areas, and never touch sick or dead rodents. Pets also should be protected from fleas and kept away from wild animals.
Plague is an infectious bacterial disease that is carried by squirrels, chipmunks, and other wild rodents and their fleas. When an infected rodent becomes sick and dies, its fleas can carry the infection to other warm-blooded animals or humans through bites.
Plague symptoms typically develop in one to four days after exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness, and a bloody or watery cough. There are three types of plague: bubonic, a lymph node infection; septicemic, a blood infection; and pneumonic, a lung infection. Bubonic plague is the most common form and is characterized by high fever, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes, most commonly in the neck and under the jaw. Infected lymph nodes may spontaneously abscess and drain.
Untreated plague can be fatal for animals and people. Antibiotics to prevent or treat plague should be used only under the direction of a health care provider.
In recent decades, an average of seven human plague cases have been reported each year (range: 1–17 cases per year). In 2014, 10 human plague cases were reported.