The number of cases of the plague in the United States has reached 16 so far this year. The record for this century is 17 cases in a year, established in 2006. Only about 16 percent of patients die after contracting the plague. Most of the deaths occur because patients are diagnosed or start treatment too late. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says plague cases have killed four people in the U.S. this year.
Plague is still present in wildlife across the nation, even though human infections have become rare. Household pets, such as cats and dogs, and rodents, such as squirrels and prairie dogs, can carry the fleas that transmit plague. The plague is easy to treat with antibiotics if patients are diagnosed in time. Patients with flu-like symptoms who have been outdoors in places where they could encounter fleas should be monitored for the plague.
The latest reported plague case is a teenage girl in Oregon. The girl is believed to have contracted the disease from a flea bite during a hunting trip. She reportedly fell ill on October 21 and was hospitalized in on October 24 in a Bend, Oregon hospital’s intensive care unit. Only eight human cases have been diagnosed in Oregon since 1995 and no deaths have been reported.
Between 1,000 and 2,000 cases of the plague around the world are reported to the World Health Organization every year. Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague seen and is characterized by swollen lymph nodes. Pneumonic plague affects the lungs and can be transmitted from person to person. A deadly septicemic infection can develop if plague’s not promptly treated. The initial symptoms of plague include fever, chills, headache, weakness, and sometimes persistent cough that is bloody or watery.
Plague caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria has infected people for at least 6,000 years. The historical archives show three major pandemics: the Plague of Justinian (541-544 AD to 750 AD), the Black Death (1347 to 1351 AD, 1700s) and the Pandemic in China (1850s through 1894, and the mid-1900s). Each one wiped out astronomical numbers of the human population. Economic and political collapses have also been attributed to the widespread effects of the plague.