California Resident Diagnosed With The Plague, The State's First Recorded Case In 5 Years

A California resident has been diagnosed with plague, the bacterial illness that killed an estimated third of the population of Europe, CNN reported. The patient is said to be at home, recovering.

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, the word "plague," medically speaking, refers to any of three diseases caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. It was the bubonic variety -- in which painful and pus-filled sores, known as "buboes," appear on the patient's skin -- that killed tens of millions of Europeans in the 14th century.

According to a press release from the El Dorado County Department of Health and Human Services, a South Lake Tahoe resident has come down with the disease, although the document did not specify which manifestation of the illness the patient has.

"It's believed that the person, an avid walker, may have been bitten by an infected flea while walking their dog along the Truckee River Corridor north of Highway 50 or the Tahoe Keys area in South Lake Tahoe," the statement reads in part.

The release did not specify the age, gender, or overall general health of the infected person, and only noted that they are getting medical care and are recovering at home.

Though centuries ago the plague was a deadly bugaboo that devastated entire continents, it's easily treatable with modern antibiotics these days.

the yersinia pestis bacterium
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And though it's been hundreds of years since a widespread outbreak of the plague was a legitimate public health concern, the disease did not go away. Between one and 17 human cases of the plague in the U.S. occur each year, with an average of seven. It is rarely fatal in humans in the United States.

This year, the plague has claimed at least one life, as a young man in New Mexico died of the illness. That was the second case in that state this year.

Just as it did 700 years ago, the plague is spread by fleas who bite infected rodents and then bite humans and pass it on to them. As such, health officials in states where the bacterium persists -- largely the West and Southwest -- say that the key to plague control is rodent control. That can be accomplished by simple measures such as cleaning up areas around the house that might attract rodents, such as trash or woodpiles; making sure pets are up to date on flea and tick medication; and keeping pets from interacting with wild rodents.

Symptoms of plague-derived illnesses include sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes. Anyone experiencing those symptoms is advised to contact a health care professional immediately.