The patient from Georgia, who likely contracted plague while hiking in California’s Yosemite National Park, is hospitalized and being treated with antibiotics, and is expected to make a full recovery.

Oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis/CDC

Yersinia pestis infection has not been confirmed as of this writing and the Georgia Public Health Laboratory (GPHL) and the CDC are busy analyzing the samples.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) notes that plague is not endemic in Georgia but it does occur throughout the Western United States.

Currently, there is an investigation into plague infected animals in Yosemite National Park, Sierra National Forest, and surrounding areas and preventive measures are being taken to reduce the risk of plague transmission. One human case of plague has been confirmed in California.

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 including humans.

Humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague. Plague is not transmitted from human to human unless a patient with plague also has a lung infection and is coughing. Human-to-human transmission is rare and typically requires direct and close contact with the person with pneumonic plague.

Symptoms of plague usually appear two to six days after a bite and may include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin.

“Antibiotics are effective in treating plague, but without prompt treatment, the disease can cause serious illness or death,” said Patrick O’Neal, M.D., director of health protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health. “People who develop these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention and notify their health care provider that they have been camping or out in the wilderness and have been exposed to rodents and fleas.”

People travelling to areas where plague is most commonly found, such as the Western United States, can protect themselves from infection by avoiding any contact with wild rodents.

  • Never feed squirrels, chipmunks or other rodents and never touch sick or dead rodents.
  • Avoid walking or camping near rodent burrows.
  • Wear long pants tucked into socks or boot tops to reduce exposure to fleas.
  • Spray insect repellent containing DEET on socks and pant cuffs to reduce exposure to fleas.
  • Keep wild rodents out of homes, trailers, and outbuildings and away from pets.