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United States - Oregon's first case of human plague in 8 years likely came from a pet cat
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Deschutes County, Oregon
The owner’s infection likely started out in a lymph node and progressed to the bloodstream, a county health officer said.Health officials announced this week that a resident of Deschutes County — a rural part of Oregon — was diagnosed with plague, marking the state's first human case in more than eight years. The person was likely infected by their pet cat, who had developed symptoms, according to Deschutes County Health Services.Humans are most commonly exposed to plague from the bites of fleas carrying Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes the disease. Household pets can get also infected if they hunt rodents infected with plague or are similarly bitten by an infected flea.Pets can then transfer the infection to humans via tissue or bodily fluids, such as respiratory droplets from cough or sneezes. Alternatively, they might carry home fleas that in turn bite humans.Cats are particularly susceptible to plague because their bodies have a hard time clearing the infection and they're more likely than some other pets to chase and capture rodents.Plague is much rarer in dogs. However, in 2014, Colorado reported four cases of plague among people who had been in close contact with an infected pit bull terrier, including the dog's owner and two veterinary clinic employees.Dr. Richard Fawcett, a health officer for Deschutes County, said the cat involved in the recent case was "very sick" and had a draining abscess, which indicated “a fairly substantial" infection.The owner's infection likely started out in a lymph node — what's known as bubonic plague, Fawcett said. By the time the owner was hospitalized, the infection had progressed to the bloodstream, he said. Fawcett said the patient "responded very well to antibiotic treatment.However, he noted that some doctors felt the patient had developed a cough while at the hospital. That could be an early sign of pneumonic plague — a version that transmits among humans — but Fawcett said it’s not clear if the disease had progressed that far.Fawcett said doctors gave antibiotics to the patient's close contacts out of an abundance of caution to prevent any potential infections from developing into symptoms."If we know a patient has the bacteria in the blood, we might decide to be on the safe side," Fawcett said. He added that he would be “very surprised if we see any other cases.”Prior to this week, Oregon’s last human plague case was in 2015: A teenage girl presumably got infected from a flea bite during a hunting trip, the state health department said at the time.