Human Bubonic Plague Case Linked To Pet Cat

This week, health officials disclosed a human plague case in Oregon’s Deschutes County. The individual likely contracted the disease from their pet cat, according to Deschutes County Health Services.

Plague typically spreads to humans through flea bites containing Yersinia pestis, the disease-causing bacterium. Household pets may also contract the infection by hunting infected rodents or being bitten by infected fleas.

Pets can transmit the infection to humans through tissue or bodily fluids, like respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes. Alternatively, they may transport infected fleas home, which can then bite humans.

Cats are especially vulnerable to plague due to difficulty clearing the infection from their bodies and their inclination to chase and capture rodents.

Dr. Richard Fawcett, Deschutes County’s health officer, described the cat in the recent case as severely ill, exhibiting a draining abscess — suggesting a significant infection.

Fawcett explained that the owner’s infection likely began in a lymph node, indicative of bubonic plague. By the time the owner required hospitalization, the infection had advanced to the bloodstream. Fortunately, the patient “responded very well to antibiotic treatment,” Fawcett said.

Fawcett mentioned that as a precautionary measure, antibiotics were administered to the patient’s close contacts to prevent any possible infections from manifesting symptoms.

“If we know a patient has the bacteria in the blood, we might decide to be on the safe side,” Fawcett stated. Additionally, he said he would be surprised if any further cases arise.

The United States typically records approximately seven human plague cases annually, primarily occurring in rural areas of the West. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these cases are usually concentrated in regions such as northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern Oregon, and western Nevada.

Fawcett also mentioned his uncertainty regarding the sporadic emergence of cases in central Oregon over the past dozen or so years.

The CDC notes that plague typically occurs in semi-arid forests and grasslands inhabited by various rodent species. Fawcett mentioned that the individual who recently fell ill in Deschutes County resides in a rural-suburban neighborhood with nearby open land.