A Child In Idaho Has Contracted The First Local Case Of Bubonic Plague In Nearly 30 Years

The bacterium that causes the plague is transmitted to a new host through the saliva introduced by a flea bite. The pathogen prefers to live inside the bodies of rodents, and is extremely deadly in humans if left unchecked. Jarabogu/Shutterstock

Aliyah Kovner 14 Jun 2018, 11:08

Bubonic plague occurs when Y. pestis introduced into the body travels through lymphatic vessels to a lymph node, where it employs multiple devious tricks to evade the immune system while rapidly replicating. As it accumulates in the lymph node, the bacterium secretes toxic chemicals that induce the symptoms of fever, weakness, and headache. Eventually, nearby tissue begins to die off, leading to the characteristic swollen, blue-black lymph nodes called “buboes”.

If quickly treated with antibiotics, most cases of bubonic plague will resolve. If it goes too long without intervention, however, the infection can progress to the bloodstream, turning into the far more lethal septicemic form.

A painting of plague victims covered in buboes, from a German-language Bible from Switzerland dated to the year 1411. Everett Historical/Shutterstock

To protect yourself and your pets (who can also get sick or pass it on to you) against exposure to Y. pestis, the CDHD recommends:

  • Don’t touch or handle wild rodents or their carcasses
  • Keep your pets from roaming and hunting rodents
  • Use a veterinarian approved flea control product on your cats and dogs
  • Don’t feed rodents in campgrounds, picnic areas, or near your home
  • Prevent rodents from coming near your home by removing accessible food sources and nest locations, such as pet food or wood piles
  • If you find a group of dead ground squirrels, report it to that state’s Department of Fish and Game
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