An Oregon resident was diagnosed with the plague. Here are some things to know about the disease

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Officials in central Oregon this week reported bubonic plague in a resident who may have contracted the disease from a sick pet cat.

The infected resident, the cat and the resident's close contacts have all been given medication, public health officials say, and no one in the community is believed to be at risk.

Plague is not common, but it is not unheard of in the western United States, where a few cases occur each year. It's different from the rare, recently discovered disease called Alaskapox, which killed a man in Fairbanks, Alaska last month.

Here's a few things to know about what the plague is, who's at risk, and how a once-deadly disease became a treatable disease.

What is Plague?

Plague is an infectious disease that can affect mammals. It is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is spread by rodents and fleas. Sunlight and drying will kill the plaque bacteria on the surface US Centers for Disease Control. Humans and pets suspected of having plague are usually treated with antibiotics and sometimes other medical measures.

Plague symptoms can manifest in a few ways. Bubonic plague — the type contracted by the Oregon resident — occurs when the plague bacteria gets into the lymph nodes. It can cause fever, headache, weakness and pain, swollen lymph nodes. According to the CDC, it usually occurs from the bite of an infected flea.

Symptoms of septicemic plague appear when the bacteria enter the bloodstream. This can occur early or if bubonic plague is left untreated. This type of plague causes the same fever, chills, and weakness, as well as abdominal pain, shock, and sometimes other symptoms such as skin and blackened fingers, toes, or nosebleeds. The CDC says this form comes from a flea bite or handling an infected animal.

Pneumonic plague is a more serious form of the disease and occurs when bacteria enter the lungs. Pneumonic plague adds rapidly developing pneumonia to the list of plague symptoms. It is the only form of plague that can be spread from one person to another by breathing in infectious droplets.

All forms of plague are treated with common antibiotics, and the CDC says those who receive treatment early have the best chance of a full recovery.

Am I infected with the plague?

In the United States, an average of 7 human plague cases are reported each year, and 80% of them are the bubonic form of the disease, according to the CDC. Most of those cases were in the rural West and Southwest United States

Globally, most human cases of plague in recent decades have occurred in rural towns and villages in Africa, particularly in Madagascar and the Congo, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Although the 2007 Disney/Pixar animated film “Ratatouille” introduced the concept of a sophisticated rat-chef, experts agree that having rodents in the kitchen is generally not a good idea.

People can reduce the risk of plague by making their homes and outdoor living areas less inviting to rodents by removing brush and trash piles and keeping pet food out of reach. Ground squirrels, chipmunks, and wood mice can carry plague and other rodents, so bird and squirrel feeders should consider the risks when living in plague-prone areas.

Repellent with DEET can help protect people from rodent fleas while camping or working outdoors, the CDC says.

Flea control products can help keep household pets free from infestations. If a pet becomes ill, they should be taken to the vet as soon as possible, according to the CDC.

Isn't plague from the Middle Ages?

Perhaps the most infamous plague was the Black Death in the 14th century, which killed up to half the population as it swept across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. It started devastating communities in the Middle East and Europe between 1347 and 1351, and significant outbreaks continued for the next 400 years.

The previous major plague epidemic, called the Plague of Justinian, began in Rome in 541 and continued to break out for the next two hundred years.

The third major plague epidemic began in the Yunnan region of China in the mid-1800s and spread along trade routes, reaching Hong Kong and Bombay about 40 years later. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it eventually reached every continent except Antarctica, and is estimated to have killed about 12 million people in China and India alone.

In the late 1800s, an effective treatment with antiserum was developed. That treatment was later replaced a few decades later by more effective antibiotics.

Although plague is a serious disease, when patients are treated in time, antibiotic and supportive care can be effective even for the most dangerous pneumonic form. World Health Organization.

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