Health officials in Cook County, OR have confirmed that a local teenager has been hospitalized in Bend with a case of bubonic plague. It is believed that the unnamed girl contracted the rare disease from bacteria spread by an infected flea harbored on a rodent such as a chipmunk or squirrel while on a hunting trip-a couple of weeks ago in Morrow Country. She is only the 8th person to be diagnosed with the potentially deadly disease there since 1995. No one else has been reported to be sick with it at this time. In fact, less than 10 people are infected with plague in the US each year.
“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 Oregon’s Public Health Division’s Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section. “Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease. However this does not mean people should not take precautions when around wildlife, including protecting their pets.to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way.”
In fact, 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. At the same time a spokesperson from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, stated that anyone who finds sick or dead rodents including squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits, etc. should contact the agency’s veterinarians at 1-866-968-2600.
Plague symptoms typically appear 1-4 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, weakness and swollen lymph nodes, most commonly under the arms, in the groin and in the neck under the jaw. Infected lymph nodes may spontaneously abscess and drain. Anyone experiencing such symptoms should seek treatment right away. Although antibiotics are now available to treat plague, if left untreated the disease can be fatal; In addition, anyone experiencing the above symptoms should avoid exposing others to any kind of infection by staying home from school or work.
Although the plague has been around for thousands of years, it was first introduced to the US in 1900 via rat-infested ships arriving from infested areas of Asia.