A masked cat like the pet cat who may be the cause of a human plague case in Oregon.
(Photo Credit: 101cats | Getty Images)

Human Plague Infection in Oregon Likely Came From a Cat

In Oregon’s Deschutes County, health officials disclosed the state’s first human case of plague in over eight years. The individual residing in this rural area is believed to have contracted the disease from their pet cat, who had previously developed symptoms.

Scientists believe human plague infection originated in pet cat

Deschutes County Health Services confirmed the symptomatic pet cat likely infected the plague patient, according to NBC News. The bacterium Yersinia pestis causes plague and typically transmits to humans through flea bites.

Household pets are also susceptible to infection if they hunt rodents carrying the plague bacterium or if infected fleas bite them. Subsequently, they can transmit the infection to humans through contact with tissue or bodily fluids, like respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes. Additionally, they can transport fleas home, which may bite humans. 

Felines have an extremely limited ability to clear the infection, which makes them especially vulnerable to plague. Moreover, they have a higher tendency to chase and capture rodents, as compared to other pets.

Plague occurrences in dogs are relatively uncommon. However, Colorado documented four cases of plague in 2014 among individuals who had close contact with an infected Pit Bull Terrier, including the dog’s owner and two veterinary clinic staff members.

According to Dr. Richard Fawcett, a health officer for Deschutes County, the cat, in this case, was severely ill, displaying symptoms such as a draining abscess.

Fawcett states that the person’s infection likely began in a lymph node, with a condition referred to as bubonic plague. The infection had spread to the bloodstream when the person was hospitalized. Nevertheless, the patient had a good response to the antibiotic treatment. 

Furthermore, Fawcett highlighted how some doctors suspected the patient had developed a cough during their hospital stay. This symptom could potentially indicate pneumonic plague, a variant that can spread between humans. However, he clarified that the advancement of the disease to this stage remains uncertain. 

As a precautionary measure, doctors also administered antibiotics to the patient’s close contacts.

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