Monday, 12 November, 2018

Case of plague confirmed in Idaho child; first there since 1992

Plague bacteria Yersinia pestis.                        Getty Images Plague bacteria Yersinia pestis. Getty Images
Samantha Long | 14 June, 2018, 06:52

In a press release, the Health Department said that "Plague has historically been found in wildlife in both states", and that "since 1990, eight human cases were confirmed in OR and two were confirmed in Idaho". There were 16 cases reported that year, the second-most since 2000.

One of the oldest identifiable diseases known to man, the plague is still widely distributed in the warm parts of the world.

This most recent case marks the first human diagnosis in Idaho since 1992, but in recent years there have been outbreaks in the local squirrel population.

It is still unclear whether the child in Elmore County was exposed to the disease in Idaho or during a recent trip to or, according to the Central District Health Department. Human-to-human transmission is extremely rare.

The boy, a resident of Elmore County, is now recovering.

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According to the CDC, symptoms can include fever, headache, chills, extreme weakness and, depending on the type of plague, skin discoloration, swollen and painful lymph nodes, or pneumonia.

"People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife", Correll said. Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian, especially if they may have had contact with sick or dead rodents.

Since 1940, only five human cases of plague have been reported in Idaho. It can also be transmitted to humans by direct contact with infected animals or their fleas. When a case does crop up in the U.S., disease detectives try to find every person an infected individual came into contact with.

Although the idea of the plague sounds dire, another "black death" is not coming.

Ken Gage, a researcher focused on vector-borne disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR in 2014 that there are a number of rodents in the American West that are susceptible to plague. Common rodents that can become infected include ground squirrels, rats, voles and mice. Plague is still one of the scarier infectious diseases out there, with a mortality rate between 30% and 60% if untreated. In rural areas with semi-arid forests and grasslands, these animals spread the disease amongst themselves. But fortunately, antibiotics make it possible to treat most cases now.

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