NewsNational NewsScripps News


Pet cat blamed for infecting Oregon man with bubonic plague

Animals typically become infected after being bitten by fleas carrying the plague bacterium.
Pet cat blamed for infecting Oregon man with bubonic plague
Posted at 12:34 PM, Feb 12, 2024

A man in Deschutes County, Oregon, has been diagnosed with bubonic plague. It's the first case in the state since 2015.

The disease is most commonly contracted after a person handles an infected animal. 

In the Oregon man's case, health officials believe a pet cat is to blame. Animals typically become infected after getting bitten by fleas that are carrying the plague bacterium.

Oregon health officials said they are taking steps to make sure the virus doesn't spread further. 

“All close contacts of the resident and their pet have been contacted and provided medication to prevent illness,” said Dr. Richard Fawcett, Deschutes County health officer.   

SEE MORE: Report: At least 8,500 schools in US at risk of measles outbreaks

The plague devastated Europe in the Middle Ages, killing millions of people. Today, antibiotics are effective in treating the disease if it's caught early.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that the disease can cause serious illness or death if left untreated. 

The U.S. averages about seven human plague causes a year, mostly occurring in rural areas, according to the CDC. From 2000-2020, 13 deaths were associated with the plague in the U.S.

The CDC says 19 cases of the plague were reported from 1970 to 2020 in Oregon. 

Symptoms of plague include fever, nausea, weakness, chills, muscle aches and/or visibly swollen lymph nodes. Health officials say symptoms generally occur two to eight days after exposure to an infected animal or flea. 

They said if not treated early, the plague can become a bloodstream or lung infection. 

"Fortunately, this case was identified and treated in the earlier stages of the disease, posing little risk to the community. No additional cases of plague have emerged during the communicable disease investigation," the health department said. 

Health officials say people can lower their chances of contracting the plague by avoiding sick or dead rodents and protecting pets with flea control products. 

The plague is generally spread to humans either through a bite from an infected flea or contact with a sick animal. Although rodents are more likely to carry the plague, pets can also become infected. 

Trending stories at