Oregon Public Health Officials: Teen Girl Has Bubonic Plague - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Oregon Public Health Officials: Teen Girl Has Bubonic Plague

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PORTLAND, OR  – A 16-year-old Crook County girl has been diagnosed with bubonic plague, Oregon health officials confirmed.

The Oregon Health Authority said the girl likely acquired the disease from a flea bite during a hunting trip near Heppner on Oct. 16. She got sick five days later and was admitted to the intensive care unit at a Bend hospital.

No other people in Crook County have been infected with the plague, according to OHA spokesman Jonathan Modie.

Epidemiologists with Oregon Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with Crook, Deschutes and Morrow County health officials to investigate the illness.

"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."

Bubonic plague is a bacterial disease carried by rodents and their fleas, according to the CDC.

If detected early, the disease is treatable with antibiotics. Only eight human cases have been diagnosed in the state since 1995, and no deaths have been reported, according to the OHA.

The Crook County girl is the 16th U.S. case this year.

The highest annual number of plague cases in the U.S. this century was 17 cases in 2006. Globally, 1,000 to 2,000 cases are reported to the World Health Organization every year.

Symptoms

Plague symptoms, which health officials say typically develop in one to four days after exposure, include fever, chills, headache, weakness, and a bloody or watery cough.

Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague. Its symptoms are high fever, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes, most commonly in the neck and under the jaw, Modie said. Infected lymph nodes may spontaneously abscess and drain.

The CDC says doctors should think about plague when they see patients with flu-like symptoms who have been outdoors where they might encounter fleas.

Rodents such as squirrels and prairie dogs can carry the fleas that transmit plague. So can household pets such as cats and dogs. Experts caution staying clear of rodents in the wild -- especially dead rodents.

Plague caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria has infected people for at least 6,000 years.

Prevention

Health officials offered the following recommendations to prevent plague:

  • Avoid sick or dead rodents, rabbits and squirrels, and their nests and burrows.
  • Keep your pets from roaming and hunting.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on your pets.
  • Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live, such as woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned vehicles.
  • Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.
  • See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever.
  • Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from your home.
  • Don't leave your pet's food and water where mice can get to it.
  • Veterinarians and their staff are at higher risk and should take precautions when seeing suspect animal plague cases.

AP and KGW News Contributed to this story

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