Every so often the bubonic plague pops up in the United States, this time in Oregon. On October 29, Oregon health officials confirmed that an Oregon teen has contracted the bubonic plague. The Crook County girl fell ill during a hunting trip near Heppner, Oregon and has been hospitalized in Bend, Oregon since October 24.
The plague, or black death as it was called in the fourteenth century, is an infectious bacterial disease that is spread by fleas and is carried by rodents and squirrels. What would have killed 66 percent of those infected with the plague prior to antibiotic use, now only has a mortality rate of 11 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Oregon teen has been admitted to an intensive care unit in Bend and is presently recovering, according to Oregon health officials. There are currently no other reported cases in any county of Oregon, and health officials maintain that the teen’s plague is of the bubonic variety and not pneumonic plague, which can be spread through infectious droplets, according to the CDC.
There have been eight documented cases of bubonic plague in Oregon over the past two decades, according to the Oregon Health Authority. The CDC estimates that on average seven people contract the plague every year in the United States. These statistics, however, are not always predictable.
Last year in Colorado, four cases of the plague were reported. “Many people think of the plague as a disease of the past, but it’s still very much present in our environment, particularly among wildlife,” Dr. Emilio DeBess, a veterinarian in Oregon’s Public Health Division told NPR. “Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way.”
Nowadays, the plague is treated with antibiotics, and the bubonic plague doesn’t require isolation of the patient, so chances of an outbreak are relatively low. There is even a plague vaccine approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, it remains on the shelf because you are more likely to get struck down by lightning than contract the plague — unless you live in Florida. The state has not seen a bubonic plague case in decades, but it has had its fair share of lightning strikes, so Floridians may want to watch out for both!
Most plague cases are from southwestern states such as Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. California and Oregon come in at a distant fifth and sixth place. The last plague-related death was in 2013, and the worst year in the last few decades for plague cases was in 2006, when there were 17 cases and two confirmed deaths from the disease, according to the CDC.
If you are worried about such rarities as the plague, then you should probably also stay indoors during a lightning storm! Do you think the plague could ever come back in a serious way?
Stephen Seifert is a writer, professor, adventurer and a health & fitness guru. His flare for travel and outdoor adventure allows him to enjoy culture and traditions different than his own. A healthy diet, routine fitness and constant mental development is the cornerstone to Stephen’s life.