Health officials in Oregon have confirmed that a teenage girl has contracted the bubonic plague - likely from a flea bite.
Although the bubonic plague is very rare, it is usually treatable with a course of antibiotics if diagnosed early. However, federal health authorities are stumped as to why they saw such an increase in the number of individuals with the disease during 2015.
Oregon state and local health officials released a statement indicating that they believed the girl was infected with the disease while on a hunting trip two weeks ago near the city of Heppner, near the foothills of the Blue Mountain range.
Soon after her October 16 trip, she became sick on October 21 and was admitted to the hospital a few days later. At this time, she remains in the intensive care unit.
Officials stated that no other recent cases have been reported.
Bubonic plague is a highly infectious and contagious bacterial disease normally carried by wild rodents. The disease is then transmitted to the animals’ fleas, which can then transmit the bacterial infection to humans or other animals through flea bites.
Common symptoms of the disease include weakness, cough, headache, chills and fever. The infection affects a person’s lymph nodes.
In addition to bubonic, there are other types of plague. Two forms of the disease infect blood. Another form of the plague, the most contagious form, infects the lungs. This pneumonic plague is typically only transmitted to other humans if the patient is coughing due to a lung infection.
If the infection by these plagues is caught in its early stages, antibiotics render an effective treatment. Left untreated, however, the plague is fatal in about 66 percent to 93 percent of cases. By receiving treatment, those numbers drop to about a 16 percent mortality rate.
According to the nation’s disease centers, over the past few decades, an average of seven plague cases in humans were reported annually. But since April 1 of this year, there have been at least 11 human cases of the plague in the United States - three of them resulting in death. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported cases in Arizona, Colorado, California, New Mexico and Georgia.
Health officials state that “It is unclear why the number of cases in 2015 is higher than usual.”
Oregon’s health authorities reported that before the bubonic plague diagnosis of the teenage girl this month, only eight human cases have been diagnosed in the state since 1995.