Oregon Teen Contracts Bubonic Plague While on Hunting Trip

Oregon Teen Contracts Bubonic Plague While on Hunting Trip
General Health

A tiny flea, so small that most people wouldn’t notice the bug unless they were looking for it, bit a 16-year-old girl who was on a hunting trip in Oregon, giving her a rare case of bubonic plague.

Five days into the unnamed teen’s trip, she began to feel ill. Plague is a bacterial infection of the lymph nodes that causes fever, chills, headache, weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes. The girl was admitted to a Bend hospital intensive-care unit, where she is still recovering. [1]

Plague is naturally occurring in the environment, but it is rare in Oregon. Since 1995, only 8 human cases have been diagnosed, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Fortunately, none of those patients died. In 2012, however, an Oregon man contracted the disease when he tried to pull a mouse out of his cat’s throat, which cost him his fingers and toes. [2]

“Many people think of the plague as a disease of the past, but it’s still very much present in our environment, particularly among wildlife,” said state public health veterinarian Emilio DeBess. “Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way.”

In the past year alone, there have been 16 confirmed cases of plague, including this one. Four of the cases were in Colorado, 4 were in New Mexico, 2 were in Arizona and Oregon and there was one case in California, Utah, Georgia and Michigan. Four people died.

The case in Michigan was the state’s first case of plague ever. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, that individual is also recovering.

The bacterial disease is carried by rodents and their fleas and is most often found in the United States in in rural and semi-rural areas of western states, such as Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

These days, bubonic plague can be treated and cured with antibiotics if it is caught early enough. Without treatment, the disease is most certainly fatal. During the Middle Ages, plague – known then as the Black Death – arrived on Europe’s shores when 12 Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina after traversing across the Black Sea.

When locals gathered on the docks to greet the fishermen in October 1347, they were horrified to discover that most of the men were dead and those who were still living were gravely ill. Vomiting, feverish and delirious with pain, the fishermen developed strange black boils which oozed blood and pus. The “death ships” were ordered out of the harbor, but the plague had already spread and would kill more than 20 million people in Europe – almost one-third of the continent’s population – over the next 5 years.

People who live in regions where plague can prevent catching plague by rodent-proofing their homes by removing piles of brush, rock, firewood and junk. Pet food should not be left in areas where rodents could easily access it. Pets should also be kept free of fleas, and people should use insect repellent when spending time outdoors in areas with large rodent populations. [3]


[1] USA Today

[2] Daily Mail

[3] Mayo Clinic