Oregon Teen Diagnosed With Bubonic Plague

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the black death
Yersinia pestis bacteria in yellow inside the gut of a flea

Bubonic plague or ‘The Black Death’ that killed 50 million in Europe during the 14th century has appeared in the U.S. state of Oregon.

Health officials have reported that a teenage girl has contracted the disease.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Oregon health officials said the Crook County girl is believed to have acquired the disease from a flea bite during a hunting trip near Heppner in Morrow County. The trip started on October 16, she fell ill five days later and was hospitalised three days after that.

The unnamed girl is recovering but is still in intensive care, officials said. A boy from Colorado died of a rare case of the plague in June.

During the 14th century, the plague, also known as the Black Death because of the symptom of oozing, blackened sores, killed tens of millions of people in Europe, Asia and Africa. An estimated 25 per cent to 60 per cent of the population of Europe – some 50 million people – died and some histories put the toll as high as 200 million throughout the world over the century.

The plague is treatable with antibiotics if caught early. Symptoms of the bubonic plague, the most common form of the bacterial infection, include high fever, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes.

“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,” Oregon public health veterinarian Emilio DeBess said. “Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way.”

There were only 1,006 confirmed or probable cases of plague in the United States between 1900 and 2012, nearly five in six of them of the bubonic variety, according to a paper published earlier this year.

In recent decades, the United States has averaged about seven annual cases of human plague, the vast majority in western states.

When bubonic plague is left untreated, plague bacteria can invade the bloodstream, causing other forms of plague and “can progress rapidly to death,” according to the the Centre for Disease Control.

The advent of antibiotics dramatically reduced the mortality rate of those infected with plague in the US from 66 per cent in the early decades of the 20th century to 11 per cent from 1990 to 2010.

Despite its infamy, the “Great Plague” or “Black Death” of the Middle Ages was actually the second of three plague pandemics in recorded history.

The first was the Justinian Plague, which began in 541 A.D. and was named for Byzantine emperor Justinian I. More than 25 million people died over two centuries marked by frequent outbreaks.

The Black Death was next, starting in 1334 in China and spreading along trade routes to Europe. It claimed an estimated 60 per cent of the European population. Despite the massive losses, some say it may have played a role in ushering in the Renaissance, as the resulting huge labor shortages created a need for modernisation.

The final pandemic, the Modern Plague, also began in China, in the 1860s. It had appeared in Hong Kong by 1894 and then spread throughout the world by rats on ships over the next two decades. It was during that pandemic that scientists discovered that the plague was caused by a bacteria and often spread through fleas.


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