“Oregon is rocked by first human case of bubonic plague in nearly a decade after being infected by their pet cat”

NEWS AND VIEWS: The Mail Online has a sensationalist headline as per my headline in which they add that “officials rushed to contain virus”.

Bubonic plague case in Oregon 2024
Bubonic plague case in Oregon 2024 transmitted from a domestic cat
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Rare and normally hard to spread

It sounds as if Oregan is about to be swamped by a bubonic plague epidemic but it’s not. Bubonic plague is very rare in the United States and it can be dealt with satisfactorily with antibiotics if it is caught early. It is a zoonotic bacterial infection which automatically means it can’t spread like a virus. Bubonic plague is nowhere near as contagious as a viral infection although it can spread from person to person. And it can progress to pneumonic plague:

In certain circumstances, the bubonic plague can progress to a more severe form called pneumonic plague, which affects the lungs. Pneumonic plague is highly contagious and can be transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. This makes it a serious public health concern, as it can lead to outbreaks or epidemics if not properly controlled.

Poe AI

The infection is picked up from bites from fleas infected with the bacterium Yersinia pestis after the fleas feed on infected animals particularly rodents such as rats.

Other animals can sometimes become infected including the domestic cat (as they come into contact with rodents) and a person might come into direct contact with the body fluids of an infected cat through handling and acquire the disease.

In this Oregon story, the unidentified resident is believed to have got the disease from their cat who was symptomatic i.e. they showed signs of having the bubonic plague.

RELATED: Cats would have saved Europe from the plague

Little risk to community

People who were in contact with this person and their cat have been contacted by the authorities and treated to prevent illness. There is little risk to the community as it was caught early. There are no other reports of bubonic plague in Oregon.

It is the first case of bubonic plague in Oregon since a 16-year-old got the disease in 2015. In the last 20 years there have been eight cases in the state. If it is caught late and not dealt with properly it can be fatal or can cause life changing injuries such as when an Oregon man lost his fingers and toes to the plague in 2012.

This individual contracted the disease after he tried to remove a mouse from his cat’s mouth. I presume saliva from his cat’s mouth got onto its hands and then to his mouth.

Keep cats indoors?

A plague vaccine isn’t available as yet. It appears that officials in America recommend not feeding squirrels or chipmunks. And according to the Mail Online “pet owners are also advised to keep their pets away from wild rodents to avoid infection”, which can only be achieved by keeping your cat indoors full-time.

This is another string to the bow of those who argue that domestic cats should be full-time indoor cats.

A study published in June 2000 (citation below) said that – at that time – exposure to cats infected with Yersinia pestis “is a recently recognised risk for human plague in the US”.

Also, at that time there were 23 cases of “cat-associated human plague (five of which were fatal) occurring in eight Western states from 1977 through 1998”.

Early medical intervention

The researchers said that “bites, scratches or other contact with infectious materials while handling infected cats resulted in 17 cases of bubonic plague… The five fatal cases were associated with misdiagnosis or delays in seeking treatment”.

The last sentence is important. Early intervention can resolve this health problem completely.

Concerning Mail Online headline

The Mail Online headline is worrying for me because it might lead to the abandonment of domestic cats by some worried people.

I can remember when Covid-19 first emerged. In China some cat owners threw their cats out of apartment windows to their deaths. People should realise that the bubonic plague, despite its worrying title and connotations, is rare and it can be dealt with successfully with antibiotics.

Study details

Study citation: Kenneth L. Gage, David T. Dennis, Kathy A. Orloski, Paul Ettestad, Ted L. Brown, Pamela J. Reynolds, W. John Pape, Curtis L. Fritz, Leon G. Carter, John D. Stein, Cases of Cat-Associated Human Plague in the Western US, 1977–1998, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 30, Issue 6, June 2000, Pages 893–900, https://doi.org/10.1086/313804

RELATED: COVID-19: Moscow’s attitude mirrors that of London during 1665 bubonic plague

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