A case of bubonic plague , the most common and widespread form of plague , an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis , was recorded in the United States . The man was infected in Deschutes County, Oregon, “probably due to his pet cat having symptoms ,” as stated in the press release from local authorities. The responsible bacterium is a host of fleas that parasitize rodents such as rats, squirrels and prairie dogs, “but in some cases fleas can also infect domestic animals such as cats”, highlights the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS). The bacterium can be transmitted by flea bites or by exposure to the bodily fluids of infected animals .
According to Oregon health authorities, the cat may have brought home infected fleas which subsequently also bit the owner, infecting him. Alternatively, the cat may have infected it through contaminated body fluids, such as respiratory droplets . The pet, in fact, was also affected by the plague and was “very sick”, as explained to NBC News by Dr. Richard Fawcett, a health officer for Deschutes County. He had in fact developed a draining abscess which, according to the expert, suggested an advanced infection . Close contact with the cat may have favored transmission .
The conditions of the little feline after the diagnosis were not made known, but the man, fortunately, responded “very well” to treatment with antibiotics , which can effectively fight the Yersinia pestis bacterium if caught in time. As specified, man had developed the plague in its bubonic form, so called due to the appearance of buboes , “inflamed enlargements of the lymphatic glands (NDR lymph nodes), followed by fever, headache, chills and weakness”, underlines the ISS.
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This is the most common form of plague caused by the bacterium. The disease is still widespread in some countries where people live in close contact with animals that carry the pathogen – such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar – but it is also present sporadically in some industrialized countries. There are a handful of cases in the US each year, mostly in rural areas of the Northwest, as noted by the CDC. Oregon hasn't had a case of bubonic plague since 2015, when a teenager was infected during a hunting trip (she ended up in intensive care due to the infection). In Europe , however, the disease is no longer present: as explained by the ISS, the native form has not occurred in the Old Continent “for several decades”.
In the case of Oregon, it is not excluded that the form of plague that affected the man may have progressed to the pneumonic form, given that the doctors who treated him observed the development of a cough while he was in the hospital. “If not diagnosed early, bubonic plague can progress to septicemic plague (bloodstream infection) and/or pneumonic plague (lung infection). These forms of plague are more severe and difficult to treat,” Deschutes authorities explain. The bacterium was also detected in the patient's blood.
These are particularly significant details because if the bubonic form is not transmitted from person to person, the pulmonary form does so through respiratory droplets (aerosols and droplets ) released through breathing, coughing and sneezing. Prophylactically, all of the man's close contacts have received preventative antibiotics, but doctors do not expect any more people to develop the infection. Dr Fawcett said he would be “very surprised” if any more cases related to this story emerge.
The bacterium responsible for the bubonic plague is the same as the infamous ” Black Death ” which killed tens of millions of people in Europe in the Middle Ages . Although the disease is no longer as scary as in the past thanks to antibiotics, nowadays the plague still causes thousands of cases and hundreds of victims, as highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO). For example, remember the cases of two brothers in Mongolia who died after consuming infected marmot meat. They were infected by the so-called ” marmot plague “, however linked to the Yersinia pestis bacterium.