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Oregon’s First Human Plague Case in 8 Years Linked to Pet Cat: Health Officials Warn of Risks and Precautions

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Oregon's first human case of plague in over eight years is believed to have stemmed from contact with a pet cat, health officials reported this week. The individual, residing in Deschutes County, a rural area of Oregon, likely contracted the disease from their cat, which exhibited symptoms of plague, according to Deschutes County Health Services.

Plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is typically transmitted to humans through flea bites. Household pets, if infected by hunting rodents carrying the plague or through flea bites, can transfer the infection to humans via bodily fluids or tissues. Additionally, pets may introduce infected fleas into the home, potentially leading to human bites.

Cats are particularly vulnerable to plague due to difficulties in clearing the infection from their bodies and their propensity to hunt and capture rodents. While rare in dogs, instances of plague transmission have been reported, such as in 2014 when Colorado documented four cases among individuals in close contact with an infected pit bull terrier.

Dr. Richard Fawcett, a health officer for Deschutes County, noted the severity of the recent case involving a cat with a significant infection, indicating the progression of the disease from a lymph node to the bloodstream. The patient responded well to antibiotic treatment, though there were concerns of possible pneumonic plague development. Still, it remains uncertain if the disease reached that stage.

As a precaution, antibiotics were administered to close contacts of the patient to prevent potential infections from manifesting into symptoms. While the risk remains low, health authorities stress vigilance and adherence to preventative measures, especially in regions where plague persists.

Oregon's previous human case of plague was reported in 2015 when a teenage girl likely contracted the disease from a flea bite during a hunting excursion, as per the state health department. Plague cases in the United States primarily occur in rural areas of the West, with notable concentrations in specific regions like the Four Corners area. Despite advancements in treatment, vigilance and monitoring remain crucial in managing the risk posed by this ancient disease.

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