An Oregon teenager has contracted a rare case of bubonic plague, likely from the fleas of a dead rodent, according to an Oregon Public Health Division press release.
Oregon officials are working with CDC epidemiologists to confirm the source of infection, which, according to the release, was most likely contracted during the teenager’s recent hunting trip to Morrow County, Oregon. The female patient is recuperating in a Bend hospital.
“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,” Emilio DeBess, DVM, state public health veterinarian, said in the release. “Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way.”
The teenager is the second confirmed case of plague in Oregon and the 16th nationally this year, according to the CDC, making it the greatest number of cases since 17 were reported in 2006.
“Colder weather usually decreases the immediate risk of plague, so we hope that we don’t see any more cases this year,” Natalie Kwit, DVM, an epidemic intelligence service officer at the CDC told Infectious Diseases in Children. “However, we can’t actually predict what will happen over the next 2 months. Cases are occasionally reported in the fall and winter months among small-game hunters.”
According to a recent report written by Kwit and colleagues on human plague in MMWR, mortality associated with plague has declined from 66% (1900-1941) to 16% (1942-2012) through use of antibiotics. Doctors in plague endemic areas are advised to consider the illness as a diagnosis in patients displaying sudden onset of fever and malaise, with accompanying abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. The CDC requires that all suspicions of plague be reported immediately to health officials.
“Persons engaging in outdoor activities in areas where plague is endemic should wear long pants when possible and use insect repellent on clothing and skin,” Kwit and colleagues wrote in MMWR. “Persons also should avoid direct contact with ill or dead animals and never feed squirrels, chipmunks or other rodents.”