SCIENCE ALERT: The bubonic plague might sound like an affliction of the past, but the bacterium behind the disease is still out there, causing thousands of human infections worldwide, year after year, although cases in the US are relatively rare.
The state of Oregon just confirmed its first case in eight years, and officials say it probably came from a domestic cat, which also showed symptoms.
Oregon health officer Richard Fawcett told Aria Bendix at NBC News that the patient who contracted the plague from their pet became “very sick”.
Usually, an infection of this kind starts with flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, fever, chills, and a headache.
The recent infection in Oregon, however, had progressed to the point of a draining abscess, called a “bubo”, which is a rare outcome nowadays.
Thankfully, modern antibiotics mean that the bubonic plague no longer has to be a death sentence. The bacterium behind the infection, Yersinia pestis, rarely proves fatal if caught and treated early enough.
The patient in Oregon is apparently responding well to modern medicine, and their close contacts have also been treated to curb the possibility of further spread.
Officials have not said how the infection spread from the cat to the owner, but if the cat was bitten by infected fleas, the pet might have brought the fleas home, exposing the owner, too. Either that, or the owner may have been in contact with the cat’s own contaminated fluids.
Y. pestis usually infects small mammals and fleas, and depending on how it spreads to humans, either by bites, contaminated fluids, or droplets in the air, it can cause bubonic plague or a blood- or lung-based plague …