EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) – The bubonic plague is an illness dating back to the middle ages, the Oregon Trail included, but really has yet to surface in modern day.
That is, until now.
The fourth report since January 2010 was confirmed Tuesday in a cat in Prineville. The 5-year old cat, Meow, was taken to the vet after his owners noticed a large absess in his lymph nodes and a high fever. The vet sent test results to Oregon State University, and received notice that he tested positive for the disease.
Meow is on his way to full recovery; his owners did not get sick.
Only three cases of the plague in humans have surfaced since 1995, none of which were in Lane County. In every case, the victims recovered. Most of the incidents were in Lake County located in Southeastern Oregon. Officials say that area is prone to the disease because they have more rodents than other areas.
"If you don't have large rodent populations and you don't have a lot of fleas, it’s really not an issue. We don't see anything coming in from the outside that would cause us to have increased concern, these are normal precautions," said Betsy Meredith from Lane County Public Health.
Meredith said the best medicine is prevention. The most recent wildlife case that happened in Oregon was reported in 2005 in Grant County. She cannot recall a human case in Lane County and in no way thinks there are any immediate concerns to be had locally.
“That’s not what we’re talking about,” she told NewsSource 16. “What we’re talking about is rodents carrying fleas that can get them on our pets and can carry disease.”
She claims that it is typical for something like this to pop up periodically, but doesn’t believe there is concern for a long-term epidemic.
On a broader scale, the Oregon Health Authority
says cats are the most sensitive to the disease. Dogs, on the other hand, fight it off naturally. They are referred to as sentinel, in which they can get the disease but do not show symptoms.
Rodent control, again, is a key component according to OHA. If animals are around areas with rodents or prairie dogs, the amount of exposure likens the potential for fleas. Those fleas then transfer to humans. Symptoms typically develop within about four days after exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness, pneumonia, enlarged and tender lymph nodes, abdominal pain and bleeding of the skin or organs. These symptoms are similar in pets.
Anyone who thinks their pet might have been exposed should contact their veterinarian. Veterinarians are required to report to the state when they diagnose the plague. Local D.V.M Kathy Snell said the plague is not something she would think of right away merely because of the popularity of plague in the area or lack there of.
“If a vet here saw a cat with an abscess for example, first thought would be that he got into a fight. More specifically, an indoor-outdoor cat who is a hunter,” she said.
She said they would try treatment and basically use process of elimination before considering the plague.
Antibiotic therapy works well in both humans and pets, so while the plague can be fatal, it is easily treatable.
"We think of it as the ‘black death’ and wiping out millions of people but remember they didn’t have easy access to antibiotics and didn’t have the hygiene we have now so people lived with rodents in their homes and were frequently exposed to that sort of bite. Nowadays, to see an epidemic of plague wouldn’t happen," Snell said.
Since the rise of the equine virus, people are even more skeptical of what diseases can be transferred among pets and into the human population. Snell said she doesn’t expect any serious epidemics to surface, although seasonal rises in illnesses could occur. No disease is expected to be related to the other.
In humans, those who should be especially cautious are those who camp, hike, fish and enjoy the outdoors on a more regular basis. The Oregon Health Authority suggests tucking pant cuffs into socks and using insect repellant.
The Oregon Health Authority, various veterinarians and Lane County Public Health all agree: the Prineville case should not panic people, but be a reminder to use precaution.