A Teenager in Oregon Was Diagnosed with Bubonic Plague, but Don’t Freak Out Just Yet

By  | 

chipmunkIt sounds pretty crazy, but officials have reported that a teenage girl in Oregon was just diagnosed with bubonic plague. An American teenager coming down with the Black Death on the night before Halloween sounds like a sign of the Apocalypse or at least the start of a cheesy horror movie, but there really is not anything to worry about.

According to The New York Times, the girl is assumed to have been infected by a flea bite on a hunting trip near the foothills of the Blue Mountains in the northeast part of Oregon. She was probably infected on October 16 but did not fall ill until October 21. She was hospitalized a few days later when her symptoms worsened, and she is currently in intensive care, though she is expected to recover.

Even though the bubonic plague is the “Black Death” that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages, we don’t really have any reason to panic right now. Bubonic plague is actually very treatable with antibiotics, especially when caught early. The CDC says that with treatment, the mortality rate for bubonic plague is only around 16 percent thanks to modern medicine.

Plague is carried by wild rodents like chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and rats, and it is passed to humans when the rodents’ fleas decide to branch out and bite people. Symptoms include fever, headaches, chills, weakness, and a cough. Those are also the symptoms of pretty much everything, but there’s probably no reason to get anxious if you have a lingering case of daycare cough. Bubonic plague also causes the lymph nodes to swell painfully, and the site of the flea bite will usually turn black.

Also, the bubonic plague is very rare. 2015 has been a strangely big year for plague in the U.S., with 11 cases already reported in residents of Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, and Oregon. Two of the cases were reportedly contracted in Yosemite National Park. Three of the 11 have died.

CDC officials say they do not know why there have been more cases than usual so far this year, but Oregon says that it  has only had eight human cases in the state since 1995, and none of them were fatal. Plague responds better to antibiotics at the start of an infection, and if caught early is very survivable. Cases that go untreated or are left untreated for longer before starting antibiotics are more likely to be fatal.

(Photo: eDarling Photo/IstockPhoto/Getty Images)