Bubonic Plague Makes Rare Comeback, ‘Likely Spread By Cat,’ Officials Claim – One America News Network

A man dresses as a bubonic plague doctor at the Bannockburn Live event on June 28, 2014 in Stirling, Scotland. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

OAN’s Brooke Mallory
4:27 PM – Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The first verified case since 2015 of the rare bacterial infection known as the bubonic plague has been identified in Deschutes County in Oregon.


Deschutes County health officer, Dr. Richard Fawcett, said in a statement last week that the individual was most likely infected by their cat and that “all close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the first-line therapy for the plague is common antibiotics, such as gentamicin and fluoroquinolones.

According to the statement, fortunately, the affected individual was “treated in the earlier stages of the disease” and now presents “little risk” to the public.

But the case is raising questions about how the plague—best known for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages—can spread in modern times.

“The reason why it hasn’t been eliminated is because there’s an animal reservoir. The bacteria can infect animals, and because we can’t treat all animals in the wild, it persists in nature and thus occasionally causes a limited number of human cases,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. 

Barouch is not involved in the Oregon case.

Yersinia pestis is the bacteria that causes the bubonic plague. Humans often get it through contact with diseased animals or flea bites that transmit the bacteria. People typically experience “discomfort, swelling of the lymph nodes, fever, headache, chills, and weakness” two to eight days after exposure.

Deschutes County Health Services stated that the illness could also lead to lung or bloodstream infections if it is not identified in a timely manner. Treatment for more advanced stages of the illness is also much more challenging.

Nevertheless, “the plague is easily recognized, easily diagnosed and easily treated” with antibiotics nowadays, Dr. Harish Moorjani said. Moorjani is an infectious disease specialist at Northwell Health.

In comparison to the Middle Ages, “people should put everything into perspective; this is a different era,” he continued.

“As long as the person and their immediate contacts are treated—which did occur in this case—the chance it will spread any further is very, very low. So I think that people should not be worried, but if people want to reduce their risks, then they should avoid contact with rodents and fleas and sick animals,” Mooriani added. “It turns out cats can be infected quite easily because cats have a difficult time controlling the bacteria themselves,” Barouch said. “Dogs can be infected too, but cats can be infected even more easily. Squirrels, chipmunks, rodents are typically the animals that are infected in the wild.”

The Black Death epidemic of the Middle Ages was believed to have been caused by fleas carried by rats.

“The reason why it caused such widespread death and destruction in the Middle Ages is because we didn’t have antibiotics at that time,” Barouch said.

“Although it can be a serious illness, it’s usually easily treatable with antibiotics as long as it’s caught early. So now it’s a very treatable disease. It shouldn’t create the fear that people had in the Middle Ages of the Black Death,” he said. “If anyone develops symptoms consistent with the plague—usually the initial symptoms are fever, chills, and swollen lymph node—then seek medical attention, because at the early stages, the plague is easily treatable with antibiotics.”

According to Moorjani, people should adopt simple preventative measures to ensure the health of both themselves and their pets. This includes keeping your home clean and tidy to avoid coming into contact with rodents and fleas.

He also advised people to use effective flea medicine and to walk their pets on leashes outside.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises people to avoid touching animal corpses and to take precautions against flea bites when engaging in outdoor activities.

“Good general hygiene and some rational protection at the individual level can easily prevent” plague infections, Moorjani said.

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Brooke Mallory
Author: Brooke Mallory

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