Bubonic Plague: Oregon Teen Diagnosed With Devastating Disease

Bubonic plague was diagnosed in an Oregon teen, who recently returned from a hunting trip. Although she spent several days in intensive care, the 16-year-old girl was transferred out of ICU on Friday, and is expected to survive.

As reported by KGW News, representatives with numerous organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oregon Public Heath organization, are investigating the origin of the deadly disease.

However, the Oregon Health Authority believes the unnamed victim contracted bubonic plague during a hunting trip in Heppner. Although the specific origin is unclear, officials suspect the teen was bitten by an infected flea.

According to reports, the girl began experiencing symptoms on October 21, which was five days after returning home from her trip. As the symptoms got progressively worse, she was admitted into a Bend, Oregon hospital three days later.

As defined by the CDC, “plague is a disease that affects humans and other mammals… caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis.” In most cases, the disease is passed to humans when they are bitten by an infected flea.

Also called the black death, bubonic plague is blamed for the deaths of millions of Europeans throughout the Middle Ages.

The devastating illness was first identified in the United States in the early 1900s. As the disease is most often carried by rodents and their fleas, the plague was likely brought to the U.S. by rats that were carried to the country on steamships.

Although the plague is still present in the United States, the country has not experienced a significant outbreak since the 1924-1925 outbreak in Los Angeles, California, which killed an estimated 40 people.

Flea bites are the most common source of plague transmission. However, humans can become infected after handling infected mammals or their body fluids.

Early bubonic plague symptoms include chills, fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and headache. As the initial symptoms can emulate other illness, patients are often misdiagnosed.

However, as the Yersinia pestis bacteria quickly multiplies and spreads throughout the patient’s system the symptoms become more prominent and debilitating. Although bubonic plague can eventually lead to death, it is treatable with antibiotics.

According to CDC statistics, between one and seventeen cases of bubonic plague are diagnosed in the United States each year. A majority of the cases occur in the rural west and are most prominent in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.

In most cases, the infection is spread to humans through fleas carried by infected chipmunks, mice, rats, and squirrels.

Prior to the introduction of antibiotics as a treatment option, the mortality rate was approximately 66 percent. In the last 15 years, the mortality rate was reduced to 11 percent.

Although the plague is treatable with antibiotics, CDC officials urge preventative measures in regions where the plague has been detected.

Residents and visitors are advised to use repellent containing DEET while spending time outdoors. Residents are also urged to prevent rodent infestations near their homes and to treat family pets with medication to prevent fleas.

As reported by CNN, healthcare officials positively identified 15 cases of bubonic plague in the United States in the last 10 months. The CDC confirmed four of those diagnosed later died of the devastating disease.

Officials in Crook, Deschutes and Marrow counties are conducting tests to determine whether there is any cause for concern. However, there were no other cases of bubonic plague reported in Oregon in recent months.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, the Cook County teen is the eighth case of human bubonic plague diagnosed in Oregon in the last 20 years. None of those cases resulted in death.

[Image via Shutterstock/MichaelTaylor]