Child In Elmore County Diagnosed With The Plague, Idaho’s First Case Since 1992

It's not clear whether the child was exposed to the plague in Idaho or during a trip to Oregon.

Blood sample for plague test, infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis.
Jarun Ontakrai / Shutterstock

It's not clear whether the child was exposed to the plague in Idaho or during a trip to Oregon.

The plague has resurfaced in Idaho after 26 years since the last human case was diagnosed, reports the Idaho Statesman.

The announcement comes from the Central District Health Department (CDHD), which confirmed this week that a child in Elmore County has been infected with the plague. According to the sources, the child has received antibiotic treatment and is recovering from the disease.

This makes the fifth human case of the plague uncovered in Idaho in almost 80 years and the first one to be detected since 1992.

“Since 1940, only five human cases of plague have been reported in the Gem State. The last two reported cases occurred in 1991 and 1992, with both patients fully recovering,” states East Idaho News.

CDHD epidemiologists are unsure whether the child had contracted the infectious disease in Idaho or was exposed to the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, during a trip to the neighboring state of Oregon.

“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,” shows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While human cases of the plague are rare, the disease is found in nature in ground squirrels and other types of rodents.

The most recent case of the plague found in Idaho squirrels was diagnosed in 2016. However, the Idaho Statesman mentions that the disease hasn’t been confirmed this year in Elmore County or Ada County wildlife.

Plague Symptoms — What To Watch Out For

In humans, plague symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, and often a swelling of lymph nodes under the armpit, shows the CDHD statement. These symptoms usually manifest within two to six days from contact with the Yersinia pestis bacterium.

In case you come down with any unexplained illness that involves a sudden and severe bout of fever, see your doctor at once.

“Plague is infamous for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague,” notes the CDC. “Without prompt treatment,” however, “the disease can cause serious illness or death.”

The recently diagnosed plague case in Elmore County serves as a reminder that this disease can still be dangerous to both people and their pets and that anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors should take precautionary measures to shield themselves from infection.

How To Protect Yourself From The Plague Bacterium

Since the plague has been known to occur naturally in the wildlife of both northern states, with two human cases reported in Idaho in the last three decades and another eight discovered in Oregon, the CDHD cautions people to stay clear of rodents, especially if the animals are sick.

“Plague is spread to humans through a bite from an infected flea. People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife,” CDHD epidemiologist Sarah Correll said in a statement.

The summer months are a particular hazard, as plague activity can increase during the season because this is the time rodents typically forage for food.

“Wear insect repellant, long pants and socks when visiting plague affected areas,” says Correll.

The best way to protect yourself against the plague is to prevent the family pets from coming into contact with rodents, as fleas carrying the Yersinia pestis bacterium can jump from wildlife to domesticated animals. If any of your pets fall sick, call the veterinarian immediately.

The one thing you should never do is feed rodents in parks or picnic and camping areas. At the same time, be extremely careful around sick or dead rodents and never handle them yourself.

To avoid rodents from settling near your home, clean up any areas that might be suitable for rodent nests, such as woodpiles and lots with tall grasses and weeds.