A child is recovering in Idaho after contracting the bubonic plague, according to state health officials. Although the child has not been publicly identified, this case is intriguing because it's one of only three cases of bubonic plague in humans the state has seen in the past two decades.
Health officials don't know whether the child picked up the plague in Idaho or while on a recent trip to Oregon, according to a press release. There have been eight cases of plague in humans in Oregon since 1990 and two in Idaho.
The plague is a serious disease caused by bacteria often found in fleas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Plague is spread to humans through a bite from an infected flea. People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife,” Sarah Correll, D.V.M., Central District Health Department epidemiologist, advised in the press release.
It's scary to hear about new cases of the plague, but it's good to remember that they're rare, and our techniques for fighting the disease have improved considerably over the past few centuries.
When most of us hear about the plague, our minds go to the millions of deaths caused by the "Black Death" back in the middle ages.
But, as SELF wrote previously, it's actually not unusual to see a few cases of plague every year, most often in rodents and fleas. And, occasionally, an unlucky human will get too close to an infected animal and end up with a bite. (Transmission from person to person is rare, and health officials in Idaho determined that this child's case was not a risk to other people.)
In the case of bubonic plague, they might experience symptoms like fever, chills, headache, weakness, and painful swelling of the lymph nodes, the CDC explains. The vast majority of cases in the U.S. are the bubonic form.
Luckily, the plague is usually easily treated with antibiotics that are readily available today, especially if the diagnosis is quick. If it's left untreated, however, the plague bacteria can spread to other parts of the body, causing more serious symptoms and even death. According to the CDC, cases of plague most often occur in western states, especially Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, and California. So, although it's rare, doctors in those states should be able to identify it pretty quickly.
If you're in an area where plague is a possibility, it's important to protect yourself by wearing insect repellant, reducing rodents around your home, and keeping fleas off your pets, the CDC says.