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US reports first human case of bubonic plague in 8 years — how deadly is it?

This representational image shows a cat on a tree branch. — Unsplash 

Health officials in Oregon, United States, recently reported the country’s first case of the “bubonic plague” in eight years and warned that the unnamed patient may have contracted the deadly medieval disease from a house cat, The Sun reported.

This infection, which is part of the Black Death — a collection of plagues — typically begins with flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, fever, chills, and headache, followed by abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

However, in some cases, patients may bleed from the mouth, nose, or rectum.

Dr Richard Fawcett, state health officer, reported that the patient who contracted a bug became “very sick” and the infection worsened to the point of draining pus-filled boils, called a “bubo”, which is a rare symptom nowadays.

They reassured that the patient is responding well to antibiotic treatment and that their relatives have also been treated to prevent further spread of this infectious bacterial disease which is carried by wild rodents and their fleas.

While health officials have not concluded how the infection spread from the cat to the owner, they suspect that the cat may have been bitten by infected fleas, exposing the owner, too.

Alternatively, the owner may have been in contact with the cat’s contaminated fluids.

Cats are highly susceptible to the plague due to their inability to clear the infection and their tendency to chase and capture flea-carrying rodents.

How deadly is ‘bubonic plague’?

According to the World Health Organisation, plague cases worldwide reach 1,000-2,000 annually, and while it is treatable with modern medicine, untreated cases of bubonic plague can lead to immediate death.

The Black Death, which first broke out in the 14th century, became the most deadly recorded pandemic in history. It killed 200 million people in Africa, and Asia, and wiped out 60% of Europe’s population.

Although many believe the disease is gone, some countries still experience deadly outbreaks due to animals carrying the bacteria.

The plague has been reported in the United States, Peru, China, Bolivia, Uganda, Tanzania and Russia.

Experts advise travellers to use insect repellents when near nature and to avoid any close contact with sick or dead animals and crowded areas where plague has recently been reported.

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