Rare Bubonic Plague Case Linked to Pet Cat in US: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevent

Last week, The Oregon Health Authority confirmed a rare case of the bubonic plague in a resident. They believe the person got sick from their pet cat, which probably caught the Yersinia pestis bacteria from rodents and fleas.

Rare Bubonic Plague Case Linked to Pet Cat in US

To stop the disease from spreading, the people who were in close contact with the sick resident and the cat got medicine beforehand. The authority warned pet owners to see a vet right away if their cat gets sick after being near rodents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a national health agency in the US, says that although cases of plague still happen in rural areas of the western US, there are more cases in parts of Africa and Asia.

Between 1970 and 2020, the CDC documented 496 cases of the plague in the western and southwestern US. On average, seven cases are reported every year, mostly in people aged 12 to 45.

Although anyone can get the disease, half of the cases are in people aged 12 to 45.

What is the bubonic plague?

The bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, is a severe bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It primarily affects rodents, particularly rats, and is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas. This disease has been responsible for devastating pandemics throughout history, including the infamous outbreak in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Can pets get a Plague?

Can pets get a Plague

Yes, pets, including cats and sometimes dogs, can indeed get infected with plague. This typically occurs through the bite of infected fleas or by ingesting a rodent, rabbit, or another animal that carries fleas infected with the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis.

Symptoms of plague in pets, particularly cats, may include fever, discharge from the eyes, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, a poor hair coat, swollen tongue, mouth ulcers, enlarged tonsils, and an enlarged abdomen. These symptoms can vary in severity, and pets may exhibit one or several of these signs if infected.

To minimize the risk of the bubonic plague spreading through pets in the US, it’s crucial to implement measures such as controlling flea populations, practicing good hygiene, and avoiding contact with wild rodents. Additionally, pet owners should ensure that their cats receive regular veterinary care and appropriate flea control treatment to reduce the risk of infection and transmission.

Bubonic Plague History

Bubonic Plague History

The bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, emerged in Central Asia and spread across Europe in the 14th century through trade routes, devastating the continent and claiming millions of lives. Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the disease is transmitted through the bite of infected fleas, often carried by rodents.

Symptoms include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes (buboes), and in severe cases, skin lesions and respiratory problems. The Black Death had profound social, economic, and cultural impacts, leading to labor shortages, economic disruption, and religious fervor.

While major outbreaks occurred in subsequent centuries, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, the disease has become relatively rare due to improved sanitation and medical advancements. Nonetheless, sporadic outbreaks still occur, underscoring the enduring historical significance and ongoing threat of bubonic plague.

Bubonic Plague Symptoms

Bubonic plague symptoms

The symptoms of bubonic plague:

  1. Fever: Bubonic plague typically begins with a sudden onset of fever. The temperature may rise rapidly, often exceeding 101°F (38.3°C).
  2. Chills: Patients with bubonic plague may experience severe chills, shivering, and feeling cold despite an elevated body temperature.
  3. Headache: Headaches are common in individuals with bubonic plague and can range from mild to severe.
  4. Muscle Aches: Patients may experience generalized muscle aches and pains, which can contribute to feelings of weakness and fatigue.
  5. Fatigue: Bubonic plague often causes extreme tiredness and lethargy, making it difficult for individuals to carry out their daily activities.
  6. Swollen Lymph Nodes (Buboes): One of the most characteristic symptoms of bubonic plague is the development of swollen and painful lymph nodes, known as buboes. These buboes typically appear in the groin, armpit, or neck regions and can become tender, warm to the touch, and may eventually develop into large, inflamed masses.
  7. Nausea and Vomiting: Some individuals with bubonic plague may experience nausea and vomiting, which can contribute to dehydration and further weakness.
  8. Abdominal Pain: Abdominal pain and discomfort may occur, often accompanied by diarrhea.
  9. Skin Lesions: In some cases, patients may develop skin lesions at the site of the flea bite. These lesions can become painful, and inflamed, and may progress to form ulcers or blackened areas of dead tissue, known as necrosis.

It’s important to note that while these symptoms are common in bubonic plague, they can also be indicative of other illnesses. If you suspect you may have been exposed to bubonic plague or are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s crucial to seek medical attention promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment.

How to Prevent Bubonic Plague

how to prevent Bubonic plague

 To prevent bubonic plague:

  1. Avoid Contact with Rodents: Minimize contact with rodents, particularly in areas where plague is known to be present. This includes avoiding handling rodents or their carcasses.
  2. Control Rodent Populations: Keep rodent populations under control by sealing up entry points to buildings, removing potential nesting sites, and using traps or rodenticides as necessary.
  3. Protect Yourself from Flea Bites: Wear insect repellent containing DEET when spending time in areas where fleas may be present, such as wooded areas or areas with high rodent populations. Use flea control products on pets to prevent them from bringing fleas into the home.
  4. Avoid Handling Dead Animals: Do not handle dead animals, particularly rodents, without proper protection such as gloves. Report any dead animals to local health authorities for proper disposal.
  5. Practice Good Hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after handling animals or being in areas with a high risk of plague transmission.
  6. Use Personal Protective Equipment: If you work in occupations with a high risk of exposure to plague, such as wildlife biologists or laboratory workers, use appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, and protective clothing.
  7. Vaccination: In regions where plague is endemic or for individuals at high risk of exposure, vaccination against plague may be recommended. Consult with a healthcare provider or public health authorities for guidance on vaccination.
  8. Stay informed about plague activity in your area and follow any recommendations or guidelines provided by local health authorities.

By following these preventive measures, you can reduce your risk of contracting bubonic plague and help prevent its spread within communities.

Treatment For Bubonic Plague

 Treatment for bubonic plague typically involves the following:

  1. Antibiotics: Prompt treatment with antibiotics is crucial for improving outcomes in patients with bubonic plague. Antibiotics commonly used to treat plague include streptomycin, gentamicin, doxycycline, and ciprofloxacin. These antibiotics work by targeting the bacteria responsible for the infection, Yersinia pestis.
  2. Hospitalization: Patients with bubonic plague may require hospitalization for close monitoring and intravenous administration of antibiotics. Hospitalization also allows healthcare providers to monitor for complications and provide supportive care as needed.
  3. Supportive Care: Supportive care may include managing symptoms such as fever, pain, and dehydration. This may involve the administration of fluids and medications to reduce fever and alleviate pain.
  4. Isolation and Infection Control: Patients with pneumonic plague, a form of plague that affects the lungs and is highly contagious, may require isolation to prevent the spread of the infection to others. Infection control measures, including the use of personal protective equipment by healthcare providers, are essential to minimize the risk of transmission.
  5. Preventive Treatment for Close Contacts: Close contacts of individuals with confirmed or suspected plague may be given preventive treatment with antibiotics to reduce the risk of developing the disease.
  6. Follow-Up: Patients treated for bubonic plague should be closely monitored for signs of improvement and potential complications. Follow-up appointments with healthcare providers may be necessary to ensure a complete resolution of the infection.

It’s important to seek medical attention promptly if you suspect you have been exposed to bubonic plague or are experiencing symptoms suggestive of the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve outcomes and reduce the risk of complications.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Does Black Death still exist?

Yes, the bacterium Yersinia pestis, responsible for the Black Death, still exists today. While major outbreaks are rare, sporadic cases of bubonic, pneumonic, or septicemic plague still occur, particularly in regions with poor sanitation and hygiene. Prompt diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics are crucial for managing the disease.

How long did bubonic plague last?

Bubonic plague outbreaks lasted different lengths depending on where they happened, how many people lived there, and what public health steps were taken. The worst one, the Black Death in the 14th century, lasted for years and had different waves over decades. Later outbreaks were shorter, but cases still happen today now and then.

Can you survive Black Death?

Yes, some people survived the Black Death, but it depended on their health, access to medical care, and the type of plague they had. Today, with antibiotics, the chances of surviving the plague are much higher.

How is bubonic plague treated today?

Today, bubonic plague is typically treated with antibiotics such as streptomycin, gentamicin, doxycycline, or ciprofloxacin. These medications work to kill the bacteria responsible for the infection, Yersinia pestis. Treatment is most effective when started early, ideally within 24 hours of symptom onset. In addition to antibiotics, supportive care may be provided to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

What causes bubonic plague?

Bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. This bacterium is typically transmitted to humans through the bite of infected fleas that have fed on rodents, such as rats, squirrels, or mice, carrying the bacteria. Additionally, humans can become infected through direct contact with tissues or bodily fluids from infected animals.

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