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Pet cat likely responsible for Oregon's first case of human, bubonic, plague in 8 years

“All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness," officials said.

Published: February 12, 2024 8:33am

Updated: February 12, 2024 11:00am

Oregon health officials said that the state's first case of human plague in more than eight years likely originated in a person's pet cat. 

The cat had developed symptoms before the animal likely infected its owner with bubonic plague, Deschutes County Health Services said last week, according to NBC News

Dr. Richard Fawcett, a Deschutes County health official, said the cat suspected to be responsible for the recent case was "very sick" and had a draining abscess that indicated a "fairly substantial" infection.

The owner's infection began in a lymph node and progressed to the bloodstream by the time the owner went to the hospital. The owner "responded very well to antibiotic treatment," Fawcett said. 

However, some doctors noted that the patient developed a cough at the hospital, which would indicate the development of pneumonic plague, Fawcett said. Pneumonic plague is transmissible between humans and can be fatal within 24 hours of onset if left untreated, per the World Health Organization

It is still unclear whether the patient's disease had progressed to the pneumonic state, according to Fawcett. 

“All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness," he also said. The health agency said no additional plague cases have arisen during the investigation. 

Before the patient's infection, the last plague case in Oregon occurred in 2015. The disease, heavily associated with the Black Death, is often carried in Oregon by squirrels and chipmunks, but rodents are also disease carriers. The bubonic plague spreads to humans via flea bites and contact with sick animals. 

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