• Eugene Weekly Loves You!
Share |

The Plague (second sign of the apocalypse?)

First there were face-eating zombies. Now the plague.

Highlights from the press release below include "People should contact their health care provider if plague is suspected" and "Avoid sick or dead rodents, rabbits and squirrels, and their nests and burrows." No problem.

Probable Case of Human Plague in Crook County Resident


Crook County is reporting a probable case of human plague. The individual is being hospitalized. Contacts of this individual have been notified and are receiving preventive antibiotics. Plague cases are rare in Oregon. It is spread to humans or animals through a bite from an infected flea or by contact with an animal sick with the disease.

People can protect themselves, their family members and their pets by using flea treatments on your pets to prevent them from bringing fleas into your home.  Plague is serious but it is treatable with antibiotics if caught early. A domestic cat in Crook County tested positive for bubonic plague a year ago.

Only three human cases have been diagnosed in Oregon since 1995. According to Karen Yeargain, L.P.N., Communicable Disease Coordinator at the Crook County Health Department, the 1995 case was in a Deschutes County resident who was exposed to plague-infected fleas from household cats that hunted rodents in the fields. Two of three cats in that household also tested positive for plague exposure. In 2010, two human cases of plague were diagnosed in Lake County. Further investigation revealed that the family dog had also been exposed to plague. In 2011, an additional case with exposures in Lake County was diagnosed. There were no fatalities in humans or household animals in these cases. 

Symptoms of plague typically develop within one to four days after exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness and a bloody or watery cough due to infection. Three clinical syndromes have been described; bubonic (lymph node infection), septicemic (blood infection), and pneumonic (lung infection).   Bubonic plague is the most common form and is characterized by high temperatures, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes, most commonly in the neck and under the jaw. Infected lymph nodes may spontaneously abscess and drain. 

People should contact their health care provider if plague is suspected and a veterinarian if pets or other animals exhibit symptoms consistent with the plague.  Early treatment for pets and people with appropriate antibiotics is essential to curing plague infections. Untreated plague can be fatal for animals and people. Antibiotics to prevent or treat plague should be used only under the direction of a health care provider.

Plague can be passed from fleas feeding on infected wild mammals to pets such as cats and to their human owners. "To protect your pets, avoid allowing them access to areas with fleas or to other pets carrying fleas, and treat your pets for fleas to help prevent this disease," Yeargain said. "Call your local veterinarians for assistance in which products are safe for use in pets, because some treatments may be toxic to your pet."

Some additional steps to prevent flea bites are to wear insect repellant, tuck pant cuffs into socks when in areas heavily occupied by rodents, and avoid contact with wildlife including rodents. Pet owners are encouraged to keep cats indoors. Also, do not handle ill-appearing stray or wild animals.

Health authorities offer the following recommendations to prevent plague:

  • Avoid sick or dead rodents, rabbits and squirrels, and their nests and burrows.
  • Keep your pets from roaming and hunting.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on your pets.
  • Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live, such as woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned vehicles.
  • Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.
  • See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever.
  • Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from your home.
  • Don’t leave your pet’s food and water where mice can get to it.
  • Veterinarians and their staff are at higher risk and should take precautions when seeing suspect animal plague cases.

Source: Crook County, State Public Health Veterinarian