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FEAR CAMPAIGN: Bubonic Plague, one of history’s most lethal pandemics, was just detected in Oregon, health authorities claim
By Lance D Johnson // Feb 20, 2024

Bubonic Plague, the bacterial infection that killed tens of millions of Europeans in the 14th century, is still around today. Also known as “the Black Death,” the disease claimed the lives of more than 100 million people throughout the Byzantine empire back in the 6th century. Today, the disease exists primarily in wildlife such as squirrels, chipmunks, mice and feral cats, but it can also cross over to humans from animal bites and infected fleas.

The Bubonic Plague, caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, can cross over to humans and cause severe disease. Health officials in Oregon just reported their first case of Bubonic Plague in nearly a decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were ten cases of the plague and two fatalities in 2023. While the disease is rare, it has a high fatality rate due to the bacteria’s ability to infect the blood and colonize in the lungs.

Oregon contains first case of Bubonic Plague in nearly a decade

Oregon health officials believe the latest case is contained. The case was identified in Deschutes County. The resident was likely infected by a symptomatic house cat. Deschutes County health officer Dr. Richard Fawett said the agency is providing medication to anyone who has been in close contact with the cat and the infected person, who remains anonymous.

According to the health department, symptoms of plague usually begin two to eight days after a person is exposed to an infected animal or flea. These symptoms may include a sudden fever, nausea, weakness, chills, muscle aches and/or visibly swollen lymph nodes called buboes. As of February 7, 2024, these symptoms have not been detected in any close contacts of the infected person.

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"The bacteria multiply in the lymph node closest to where the bacteria entered the human body. If the patient is not treated with the appropriate antibiotics, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body," Deschutes County health officials said.

Early treatment is important to stop the progression of more severe disease. If left untreated, Bubonic Plague can become a bloodstream infection called septicemic plague, or it can infect the lungs and become pneumonic plague. Once in the lungs, the bacteria can cause pneumonia, respiratory failure and shock. After getting in the lungs, the bacteria are more likely to travel through saliva and sputum, possibly infecting others and causing lung infections in close contacts.

Bubonic Plague epidemic claimed more than 30 lives in Los Angeles community a century ago

The last case of Bubonic Plague in Oregon was nearly fatal. A 16-year-old girl from Crook County contracted the bacteria from an infected flea bite during a hunting trip in 2015. The teenage girl became severely ill and had to recover in an intensive care unit at a hospital in Bend, which is in central Oregon. In 2015, there were 16 reported cases in the U.S. and four fatalities. Today, cases are most likely to occur in northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern Oregon and in the far western parts of Nevada.

It has been an entire century since the United States saw a full-blown plague epidemic on its streets. Los Angeles, California witnessed a plague epidemic from 1924 to 1925. The epidemic claimed more than 30 lives.

The plague first arrived in the United States in 1900. Rat-infested steamships carried the bacteria overseas and transported people through heavily-infected areas across Asia to the West. Infected rats would spread the bacteria between other rodents in the urban areas, before spreading it further to rural wildlife. Rat eradication programs and other community containment measures helped mitigate infections in Los Angeles in 1925.

Today, the Deschutes County Health Services is urging residents to avoid rodents and fleas. This includes wearing long pants and insect repellent to reduce exposure to infected fleas. The health department is also discouraging pet owners from allowing their cats to hunt rodents and warning campers to avoid animal burrows and dead rodents. The community is also asked not to feed squirrels, chipmunks or other wild rodents.

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