Oregon Girl is 16th U.S. Plague Case This Year

by Maggie Fox /  / Updated 

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A teenaged girl in Oregon is being treated for plague, state health officials say. She’s the 16th U.S. case this year.

The highest annual number of plague cases in the U.S. this century was 17 cases in 2006.

“The girl is believed to have acquired the disease from a flea bite during a hunting trip near Heppner in Morrow County that started on Oct. 16,” the health department said in a statement on its website.

“She reportedly fell ill on Oct. 21 and was hospitalized in Bend on Oct. 24. She is recovering in the hospital’s intensive care unit.”

Plague is easy to treat with antibiotics if patients are diagnosed in time, and only about 16 percent of patients die, usually because they are diagnosed too late, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Plague has killed four people in the U.S. this 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 of the state health department.

“Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way."

The CDC says doctors should think about plague when they see patients with flu-like symptoms who have been outdoors where they might encounter fleas.

Rodents such as squirrels and prairie dogs can carry the fleas that transmit plague. So can household pets such as cats and dogs. Experts caution staying clear of rodents in the wild -- especially dead rodents.

Plague caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria has infected people for at least 6,000 years.

Globally, 1,000 to 2,000 cases are reported to the World Health Organization every year.

"Plague is rare in Oregon and is treatable with antibiotics if caught early. Only eight human cases have been diagnosed in the state since 1995, and no deaths have been reported," the state health department said.
Symptoms of plague include fever, chills, headache, weakness, and sometimes a bloody or watery cough. Bubonic plague is the most common and is marked by swollen lymph nodes. Septicemic infection can develop if plague's not promptly treated and it can be deadly. Pneumonic plague affects the lungs and can be transmitted from person to person.

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