Bubonic plague confirmed in Oregon teen

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A teenage girl from Crook County is out of the intensive care unit and is on the road to recovery after contracting the bubonic plague.

The girl was on a hunting trip near Heppner in Morrow County and was bitten by a flea, said Emilio DeBess, the state public health veternarian. She fell ill on October 21 and was hospitalized 3 days later.

Health officials in Crook, Deschutes and Morrow counties are investigating the illness along with epidemiologists from Oregon Public Health and the CDC.

“Plague is an infectious bacterial disease that is carried by squirrels, chipmunks, and other wild rodents and their fleas,” the Oregon Health Authority said in a release. “When an infected rodent becomes sick and dies, its fleas can carry the infection to other warm-blooded animals or humans through bites.”

The symptoms — fever, chills, headache, weakness, a bloody or watery cough — develop between one and 4 days after exposure, health officials said.

The plague remains rare and can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. Over the past 20 years, only 8 cases in the state have been diagnosed and no deaths have been reported from it.

In 2012, an Oregon man lost his fingers and toes to the plague. He had contracted the disease from his cat after trying to remove a mouse from the cat’s throat. He lost his fingers and toes after they turned black, which is why the plague was called ‘black death’ in the dark ages. DeBess says the teenager in this most recent case hasn’t developed the same problem.

“Her immune system is working really well, she was treated really early.”

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