Location = Warwick, RI
man hospitalized in Bend is likely suffering from the
plague, marking the fifth case in Oregon since 1995.
The unidentified man, who is in his 50s, fell ill several
days after being bitten while trying to get a mouse away
from a stray cat. The man is now being treated at St.
Charles Medical Center-Bend, where he was listed in critical
condition on Tuesday.
"This can be a serious illness," said Emilio DeBess,
Oregon's public health veterinarian. "But it is treatable
with antibiotics, and it's also preventable."
The Black Death raged through Europe during the Middle Ages,
killing about a third of the population. Today, the disease
is rare, but the bacteria have never disappeared.
The man, who lives in rural Crook County, was bitten
Saturday, June 2. He developed a fever a few days later. By
Friday, June 8, he was so sick that he checked himself into
St. Charles Medical Center-Redmond. He was later transferred
to the larger facility in Bend.
Karen Yeargain, communicable disease coordinator with Crook
County Health Department, said lab tests are
being done to confirm whether the man has the plague, but
she said he is suffering from classic symptoms.
There's one bacterium that causes the disease -- Yersinia
pestis -- but it can develop into three types of illnesses
depending on how an individual's body reacts. Initially, the
man had swollen lymph nodes -- a sign of bubonic plague --
but now he's showing signs of septicemic plague, when the
bacteria multiply in the bloodstream. Symptoms include
abdominal pain, bleeding mouth, nose or rectum and dying
tissue. The third type is pneumonic plague, which affects
DeBess said it's not clear whether the man was bitten by the
mouse or by the cat. The feline died, and its body has been
sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for
testing. The cat was abandoned in the man's neighborhood
about six years ago and stuck around. Yeargain said the man
and his family had a lot of contact with it. He was bitten
on the hand.
"Taking a mouse
out of a cat's mouth is probably not a good
idea," DeBess said.
Plague bacteria are carried by fleas
, which typically infest
. People can become infected through flea bites or
through contact with an infected animal. Some animals,
including dogs, that have been exposed to the bacteria carry
antibodies but do not get the plague and are not infectious.
DeBess said Oregon has a record of plague cases dating to
1934, with about a case a year and some periods when no
cases appear. The prevalence of the disease depends in part
on the weather and food supplies. When rodents flourish, so
do fleas. That increases the likelihood of infection.
A total of four people in Oregon died from the plague since
1934, DeBess said.
The four people sickened in the past 17 years – one in 1995,
two in 2010 and one in 2011 – have recovered.
The man is being treated with antibiotics. Other members of
his family have been given a preventative dose, Yeargain
said. The disease can be spread among people through bodily
A plague vaccine exists but is no longer sold in the U.S.
Everyone in Oregon who has fallen ill with the plague since
1934 has lived in a rural setting. But people in urban areas
can become infected, too, health officials said.
DeBess said people should be cautious around strays and
should not handle wild animals. For example, Northern
California has suffered waves of squirrel deaths caused by
Health officials advise pet owners to protect their cats and
dogs against fleas by giving them topical treatments or
using a flea collar. The treatments are not 100 percent
effective, but they do diminish the chances of pets becoming