Oregon Man Diagnosed With The Black Death

By Amir Khan on June 15, 2012 8:49 AM EDT

Flea
Fleas, pictured, transmit the bubonic plague to mammals (Photo: Creative Commons)

An Oregon man was appears to be suffering from the plague, also known as the black death, a bacterial disease typically associated with the middle ages, according to health officials. The unnamed man, in his 50s, is in critical condition at a Bend, Ore. Hospital.

While doctors have not made an official diagnosis, he is showing symptoms consistent with the black plague.

"This can be a serious illness," Emilio DeBess, state public health veterinarian, tells the Oregonian. "But it is treatable with antibiotics, and it's also preventable."

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Symptoms of the plague include a swollen and very tender and painful lymph gland, fever, chills, headache, and extreme exhaustion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The plague is transmitted through bites by animals that become infected by fleas. The man likely contracted the disease after he was bitten on the hand by a stray cat while trying to remove a mouse from its mouth on June 2, but did not check himself into the hospital until last Friday, June 8.

"A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague 2 to 6 days after being infected," according to the CDC website. "When bubonic plague is left untreated, plague bacteria invade the bloodstream. When plague bacteria multiply in the bloodstream, they spread rapidly throughout the body and cause a severe and often fatal condition. If plague patients are not given specific antibiotic therapy, the disease can progress rapidly to death."

The plague bacteria infected the mans bloodstream, which makes his disease the septicemic plague. 

Approximately 14 percent of plague cases are fatal, and in the United States, an average of 10 to 20 people per year are infected with the disease, typically in rural areas.

Doctors aren't sure if he became infected from the cat or the mouse, but officials say the cat has since died and was taken to the CDC for further testing.

"Taking a mouse out of a cat's mouth is probably not a good idea," DeBess said.

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