Oregon man diagnosed with plague

The rare case is a first for Umatilla County in recent memory, a health official said.

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Umatilla County health officials Friday confirmed a case of septicemic plague in an adult male county resident.

He may have been infected while hunting in Lake County, noted Sharon Waldern, clinic supervisor for the county's public health department.

"Lake County had two cases of human plague last year," she said

The man has been hospitalized and is receiving treatment, Waldern noted, but could not disclose the city in which the man lives. "People need to realize he was never considered contagious and he started treatment fairly quickly."

Plague is spread to humans through a bite from an infected flea.

The disease is serious but treatable with antibiotics if caught early, officials said.

Plague can be passed from fleas feeding on infected rodents and then transmitted to humans.

Direct contact with infected tissues or fluids from handling sick or dead animals can pass the disease, as well as through respiratory droplets from cats and humans with pneumonic plague, officials said in a press release.

Some types are spread from person to person, but that is not the case here, Waldern said.

Symptoms typically develop within one to four days and up to seven days after exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness and a bloody or watery cough due to pneumonia, enlarged, tender lymph nodes, abdominal pain and bleeding into the skin or other organs.

Plague is rare in Oregon. Only three human cases have been diagnosed since 1995 and they all recovered.

Last year two human cases of plague were diagnosed in Lake County.

As far as she knows, this is the first ever incident in Umatilla County.

"In this recent case it is important to stay away from flea-infested areas and to recognize the symptoms. People can protect themselves, their family members and their pets," said Genni Lehnert-Beers, administrator for Umatilla County Health Department.

"Using flea treatment on your pets is very important, because your pets can bring fleas into your home."

People should contact their health care provider or veterinarian if plague is suspected.

Early treatment for people and pets with appropriate antibiotics is essential to curing plague infections.

Untreated plague can be fatal for animals and people. Antibiotics to prevent or treat plague should be used only under the direction of a health care provider.

Additional steps to prevent flea bites include wearing insect repellent, tucking pant cuffs into socks when in areas heavily occupied by rodents, and avoiding contact with wildlife including rodents.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or sheilahagar@wwub.com

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