Bubonic Plague Resurfaces in Rural Oregon

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The rare case sparks concern and raises awareness. (Image Credit: The New York Times)

In a rare occurrence reminiscent of the medieval era, a case of bubonic plague has been reported in rural Oregon, raising concerns among health officials and sparking a renewed interest in this ancient but still present infectious disease. Although the afflicted individual has been promptly treated, the incident serves as a reminder that the plague, once known as the Black Death, is not entirely eradicated and continues to exist in certain regions.

The bubonic plague, caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria, claimed tens of millions of lives in Europe during the 14th century. Despite its historical notoriety, cases of the plague persist, albeit at a significantly reduced rate, with an average of seven human cases reported each year worldwide.

Last week, health officials in Oregon confirmed a rare case of human plague. The affected individual is believed to have contracted the disease from a pet cat displaying symptoms of the plague. Swift identification and treatment of the case have been reassuring, with officials stating that there is “little risk to the community,” and no additional cases have emerged.

Contrary to popular belief, the bubonic plague is not confined to medieval history. It remains endemic in rodent populations across various parts of the world, including the United States. While the disease is less common and more treatable today, health experts emphasize the importance of early diagnosis and treatment, as untreated cases can progress to more severe forms.

The bubonic plague is primarily transmitted through fleas infected with the Yersinia pestis bacteria. Humans can also contract the disease through direct contact with infected tissues or fluids while handling sick animals. The most common symptoms include fever, headache, chills, and painful, swollen lymph nodes known as “buboes.” If left untreated, the disease can progress to more severe forms, such as septicemic and pneumonic plague.

Though rare in the United States, the bubonic plague is still prevalent in certain parts of the world, with Madagascar being a notable hotspot. Recent epidemics in 2017 underscore the ongoing challenges in controlling the disease. Globally, efforts are being made to manage the disease through surveillance, prevention, and the administration of antibiotics.

Health authorities recommend several preventive measures to reduce the risk of contracting the plague. These include avoiding contact with rodents and their fleas, discouraging pet cats from hunting rodents, and using flea control products for pets. Additionally, individuals are advised to clear outdoor areas of potential rodent habitats and use insect repellents when necessary.

Written by Ava LeFevre

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