An Oregon man has allegedly become ill with the bubonic plague after he was bitten by a stray cat. The man, who was trying to pull a mouse out of the cat's mouth when he was bitten, is in critical condition at the St. Charles Medical Center, Bend.
According to The Oregonian, the man, in his 50s, is a resident of rural Crook County. He was bitten on June 2 and developed fever a few days later. The Oregonian reports that by Friday, June 8, he reported at the St. Charles Medical Center in Redmond but was later transferred to the the facility in Bend.
Karen Yeargain, communicable disease co-ordinator with the Crook County Health Department, told The Oregonian that lab tests are being done to confirm whether the man has the Plague. Health officials, however, say the man is showing "classic symptoms of the illness."
CBS reports that the stray cat involved in the incident has since died. The animal was sent to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for testing.
Bubonic plague is also known as "Black Death." Plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, are carried by fleas that often infest rodents. The bacteria can be transmitted to humans through flea bites or after contact with an infected animal. Dogs that have been exposed to the bacteria carry antibodies but do not get the plague and are not infectious.
CBS reports that the infection is often transmitted through a bite. Symptoms of the illness include swollen lymph glands known as "bubo," fever, chills, headache and extreme exhaustion. The illness usually occurs two to six days after infection.
The disease is of historical importance because it caused a series of epidemics that began in Europe in the late 1340s and continued with multiple peaks over several centuries. The Black Death swept through Europe in the Middle Ages killing about a third of the population. Some sources estimate the proportion of the population killed as high as 60 percent in some regions, Daily Mail reports.
A person infected with Bubonic Plague
According to NY Daily News, the disease was known as the Black Death because it often leaves victims with blackened, rotted tissue around their noses, lips, fingers and toes.
Although the disease is now rare, the bacterium was never completely eradicated.
The Oregonian reports that Emilion DeBess, Oregon's public health veterinarian, said: "This can be a serious illness. But it is treatable with antibiotics, and it's also preventable."
The Oregonian reports that DeBess said it was not clear whether the man was bitten by the mouse or by the cat. But after the cat died, its body was sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for laboratory tests. The cat is a stray abandoned in the man's neighbourhood six years ago. According to Yeargain, the man and his family had a lot of contact with it.
Inspired by Black Death, The Dance of Death is an allegory on the universality of death and a common painting motif in late medieval period.
According to The Oregonian, DeBess said the man's action was unwise: "Taking a mouse out of a cat's mouth is probably not a good idea."
CBS reports that treatment consists of hospitalization, antibiotics and isolation of the patient. When, however, the disease goes untreated, the bacteria multiply in the bloodstream. Yersinia pestis (formerly Pasteurella pestis) infection can develop into three types of illnesses. The Oregonian reports that the Oregon man first developed swollen lymph nodes and he is now showing signs of septicemic plague that happens when the bacteria multiply in the bloodstream. Symptoms of septicemic plague include abdominal pain, bleeding in the mouth, nose or rectum, and necrotizing tissues. In cases where the lungs are the primary site of the infection, the patient falls ill with the pneumonic form of the disease.
According to CBS , about 1 in 7 cases of bubonic plague end in death in the U.S. On the average, about 10 to 20 people are diagnosed of the disease each year in the U.S. The worldwide rate of the illness is 1,000 to 3,000 cases a year, CBS reports.
Four people have died from the plague since 1934 in the U.S. The most recent cases of the illness include one person in 1995, two in 2010 and one in 2011, all of whom survived. Plague vaccine exists but it is no longer sold in the U.S.
Daily Mail reports that in April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Levaquin as both a vaccine and treatment for plague. Daily Mail reports that the U.S. government may begin stockpiling the drug against an event of outbreak.
The Oregonian reports that the man is being treated with antibiotics. Other members of his family have been given preventive treatment.
According to The Oregonian, health officials advise pet owners to protect their cats and dogs against fleas by giving them topical treatments or using a flea collar. Officials say although these measures are not 100 percent effective, they decrease chances of pets becoming infected.