An Oregon teen has contracted bubonic plague after she is believed to have been bitten by a flea, state health officials said.
The 16-year-old girl is believed to have been infected during a hunting trip that started on October 16, and she fell ill five days later, the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division and the Crook County Public Health Department said.
She was taken to a hospital in Bend on October 24 and was recovering in the hospital’s intensive care unit, officials said. Her condition was not known.
State and county health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were investigating the illness. No other persons were believed to have been infected, officials said.
“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, DVM, state public health veterinarian in the Public Health Division’s Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section.
“Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way,” DeBess said.
Plague is an infectious bacterial disease that is carried by squirrels, chipmunks, and other wild rodents and their fleas. When an infected rodent becomes sick and dies, its fleas can carry the infection to other warm-blooded animals or humans through bites.
The bubonic plague, known in medieval times as the Black Death, was introduced to the United States in 1900 by rat-infested steamships that had sailed from affected areas, mostly in Asia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
In recent years, on average less than 10 human plague cases have been reported in the U.S. each year and it is typically seen in the rural West, the agency said.
“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,” Oregon state health officials said in a statement.
People should avoid and protect their pets from any contact with wild rodents or fleas, officials said.
Plague symptoms typically develop in one to four days after exposure.
Those infected with bubonic plague typically develop a sudden onset of fever, lethargy, headache, chills, weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes, the CDC said.
Though serious, plague is treatable with antibiotics.