September 23, 2018

Officials puzzled after Idaho boy contracts the plague

15 June 2018, 02:18 | Rodolfo Wallace

Olha Schedrina The Natural History Museum Flea under a microscope

Olha Schedrina  The Natural History Museum   Flea under a microscope

A child in southern Idaho's Elmore County is recovering from the bacterial disease of plague, the first confirmed human case of plague identified in the state since 1992.

The child, from Elmore County, is recovering after receiving antibiotics, the Idaho Statesman Journal reported.

The Central District Health Department said the diagnosis was confirmed this week.

That said, researchers past year found traces of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium which causes the plague, among squirrels in Elmore County.

Jeff Doerr, an epidemiologist at Southeastern Idaho Public Health, says that while the disease is still very serious, it doesn't pose the threat it once did, but it is still something to avoid.

There have been two cases of plague in humans in Idaho and eight in OR since 1990, the Statesman said.

Plague has been found in wildlife in many western states.

According to health officials, plague in humans is rare and is spread through a bite from an infected flea. The Idaho Central District Health's statement said that since 1990, there have been two cases in Idaho and eight in Oregon.

Still, the U.S. only gets a handful of cases - usually between one and 17 every year.

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In a press release, the Health Department said that "Plague has historically been found in wildlife in both states", and that "since 1990, eight human cases were confirmed in OR and two were confirmed in Idaho".

While plague in humans is rare, experts say it occurs naturally in some rodent populations, including ground squirrels in Idaho.

Bubonic plague is the most common form and known for causing swollen lymph nodes or "buboes", according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Between 1346 and 1353, the plague, also called the Black Death, killed between 75 and 200 million people in European countries.

Symptoms can include fever, chills, headaches and weakness. In most cases, there is also a painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit, or neck.

A state health official told the Idaho Statesman newspaper that the public is advised to "wear insect repellant, long trousers and socks when visiting plague affected areas".

Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on pets.

Clean up areas near your home where rodents can live, such as woodpiles and lots with tall grasses and weeds.

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