According to Oregon health officials, a teenage girl has been hospitalized after contracting bubonic plague while on a hunting trip.
The 16-year-old girl from Crook County is believed to have contracted the illness from a flea bite on October 16 while on a hunting trip near Heppner, a city near the Blue Mountains in Morrow County, northeastern Oregon.
She fell ill on October 21 and was hospitalized on October 24.
State and local health authorities said she is receiving treatment in an intensive care unit in Bend, Oregon. The case is being investigated, and no other infections have been reported, according to health authorities.
The disease is caused by bacteria called Yersinia pestis, carried by rodents such as squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. The infection is transmitted from rodents to human through fleas infesting the rodents. Humans become infected when they are bitten by fleas or come into contact with the carcass of dead animals carrying the pathogen.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unlike pneumonic plague, which is spread in the air through droplets, patients with bubonic plague don’t have to be isolated.
Bubonic plague affects the lymph nodes, causing the nodes to become swollen (buboes) and painful, whereas the septicemic form of the illness infects the blood.
The infection is very rare in modern times, although it is believed to have been common in medieval times. The Black Death pandemic, which killed an estimated 75 million to 200 million people in the middle of the 14th century, is believed to have been caused by the bacterium that causes plague, Yersinia pestis.
However, in the last 20 years, only eight human cases have been reported in Oregon. No deaths were recorded in the cases.
According to the CDC, only an average of about seven cases are reported yearly. But from April 1 to August this year, about 11 cases were reported in the states of Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Georgia, and Colorado, with three deaths occurring.
According to Dr. Emilio De Bess with Oregon’s Public Health Division, “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. Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way.”
The incubation period after infection varies from one to six days, according to CDC. The symptoms of bubonic plague include fever, chills, headache, general malaise, cough, nausea, vomiting, and painful, swollen lymph nodes called buboes, which appear in the patient’s groin, neck, and armpits.
A plague vaccine has not been developed, but antibiotics, such as streptomycin and gentamicin, are highly effective for treating plague, especially when they are administered early in the onset of the illness.
Before the introduction of antibiotics, mortality due to outbreaks of plague ranged from 66 percent to 93 percent. But with improved treatment using antibiotics, mortality in recent decades has been about 16 percent and could be as low as 11 percent, according to the CDC.
Health authorities recommend that people avoid contact with wild rodents such as squirrels and chipmunks. Special care should be taken to avoid the carcass of rodents when encountered in the wild.
People are also advised to keep their animal pets away from wild rodents.
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