First human case of plague since 1992 found in Elmore County

Plague bacteria Yersinia pestis.                        Getty Images

Plague bacteria Yersinia pestis. Getty Images

A child in Idaho came down with the plague recently, according to a statement by Idaho's Central District Health.

The unidentified child from Elmore County could have become infected in his home state or during a recent trip to or, the Central District Health Department said in a statement on Tuesday.

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

It is not known whether the child was exposed to plague in Idaho or during a recent trip to Oregon.

The child became ill last month, says Christine Myron, a spokeswoman for the Central District Health Department, in the first case since 1992.

The plague was brought to the United States around 1900 by rat-infested steamships that had sailed from areas with high infection rates.

It can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with an infected animal or flea, but person-to-person transmission is considered extremely rare.

Since 1940, only five human cases of plague have been reported in Idaho.

Since 2000, the CDC has received reports of one to 17 cases of the plague per year.

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Untreated, patients can develop pneumonic plague, the most serious form of the disease, which spreads from person to person when infected people cough tiny droplets into the air.

People can greatly reduce their risk of becoming infected with plague by taking simple precautions, including avoiding contact with wild rodents, their fleas, and rodent carcasses.

According to the CDHD, plague among humans is rare but can be found in local ground squirrels and other rodents naturally.

People can protect themselves when visiting plague-infested wildlife areas by wearing insect repellent, long trousers and socks.

Plague is a bigger problem in places that have a harder time shutting down outbreaks due to a lack of infrastructure, humanitarian crises, or ongoing conflicts, according to the World Health Organization.

The disease dates back to the Middle Ages, when it killed millions in a Europe, before the age of antibiotics.

Symptoms of the bubonic plague, most commonly transmitted through flea bites and accounting for 80% of all reported cases of the plague, include sudden onset fever, headache, chills, and weakness and one or more swollen, tender, and painful lymph nodes.

Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on pets as not all products are safe for cats, dogs or children.

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