Oregon bubonic plague case likely came from pet cat, officials say

Health officials in Central Oregon have confirmed a case of human bubonic plague and said they individual was was likely infected by a domestic house cat.

The unidentified infected person lives in Deschutes County and marks the state’s first human case in just over eight years, Deschutes County Health Services officials announced in a news release.

Deschutes County is just under 200 miles southeast of Portland, the state’s largest city.

“All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness,” Deschutes County Health Services Officer Dr. Richard Fawcett wrote the announcement released Wednesday.

The disease is spread through the air and contaminated food and the individual was likely infected by a pet cat that had developed symptoms, officials said.

This case was identified and the person was treated by doctors while “in the earlier stages of the disease, posing little risk to the community,” officials said.

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1 confirmed case reported

As of last week, no other cases of plague had been reported, the department said.

The last confirmed case of the plague in the state was reported in 2015, health officials said.

Bubonic plague symptoms

Symptoms of plague usually begin in humans “two to eight days after exposure to an infected animal or flea,” the agency wrote in the release.

The symptoms include sudden onset of fever, nausea, weakness, chills, muscle aches and visibly swollen lymph nodes.  

If not diagnosed early, bubonic plague can lead to a bloodstream infection and a lung infection, health officials warned, which are difficult to treat and sometimes can lead to death.

Tips to avoid bubonic plague

The disease spreads to humans or animals through a bite from an infected flea or by contact with a sick animal. The most common animals to carry plague in Central Oregon are squirrels and chipmunks, but mice and other rodents can also carry the disease. 

To prevent the spread of plague, health experts recommend the following tips: 

  • Avoid contact with rodents and fleas.
  • Keep pets on a leash and use flea control products.
  • If possible, discourage pet cats from hunting rodents. If your cat becomes sick after being in contact with rodents, call your vet.
  • Do not camp, sleep, or rest near animal burrows or areas where dead rodents are observed. 
  • Do not feed squirrels, chipmunks or other wild rodents.

Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on X @nataliealund.

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