First human plague case in Oregon in 8 years likely spread by pet cat, officials say

A pet cat with bubonic plague likely infected its owner in Oregon in the first case of human plague in eight years in the state, health officials say.

Health officials in Deschutes County have confirmed a case of human plague in a local resident, the county said in a Wednesday, Feb. 7, news release.

The patient probably caught the illness, rare in humans, from a symptomatic pet cat, the agency said.

“All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness,” Dr. Richard Fawcett, Deschutes County health officer, said in the release.

Bubonic plague is caused by a bacteria named Yersinia pestis and is often spread by fleas on rodents and squirrels, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Humans can catch plague by being bitten by infected fleas or by close contact with an infected animal, the agency said. The plague killed millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages, when it was called the Black Death.

Modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague, but it can still cause serious illness or death if untreated, the CDC said.

Symptoms of plague can include a sudden onset of fever, nausea, weakness, chills, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes, Deschutes County health officials said.

Symptoms typically begin within two to eight days of exposure, officials said.

The last such case in Oregon took place in 2015, the Oregon Health Authority said. The patient in the most recent case received prompt treatment, officials said.

Plague cases among humans in the United States mostly occur in rural areas of the western U.S., but the disease is more common in parts of Africa and Asia, the CDC said.

Deschutes County is about 180 miles southeast of Portland.

Health officials advise people to avoid contact with rodents and fleas, prevent pets from approaching sick of dead rodents and keep rodents out of their homes.