Teen diagnosed with bubonic plague: What we need to know

You’re probably familiar with the bubonic plague if you studied European history at all in high school. However, just like The Inquisition, you likely thought it was a threat long since past.

Unfortunately, while it’s not nearly as prevalent as it was back in the 1500s, cases of it still pop up every now and again. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States averages seven plague cases a year. Oregon has had eight reported cases since 1995, and this will be their ninth.

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Earlier this month, a 16-year-old girl from Crook County, Oregon, was diagnosed with the bubonic plague. They believe she contracted the rare and deadly disease from a flea bite she received on a hunting trip up in Heppner, Oregon. She started experiencing symptoms five days later, and was hospitalized shortly after. She is reportedly still in intensive care, although her current condition is unknown.

While it’s certainly scary to see a disease that killed one-third of the European population during the Middle Ages rear its ugly head, as of now, officials don’t think there’s a risk of an epidemic. So far, this girl is the only one sick, and she was isolated fairly quickly.

Even though it’s rare, the effects of the plague can be dire. According to ABC News, back in 2012, an Oregon man actually lost his fingers and toes after contracting the disease from his cat. Officials believe the cat had an infected mouse stuck in his throat, and the man was exposed when he tried to remove it.

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What you need to know about the plague

It’s most commonly found in fleas, which then infect the rodents they’re living on who then carry it to larger creatures. This is partly why experts believe it spread so quickly throughout Europe. The cities were dirty, crowded and brimming with rats, so once one became infected, the disease moved quickly.

If found early, the plague is treatable with antibiotics. As such, there have been no reported deaths in relation to it in the state of Oregon. The bubonic plague is the most common form of plague (although plagues aren’t common to begin with), but there is still no vaccine for it.


The plague has a one- to four-day gestation period, so you’ll start to feel sick around the fourth or fifth day. It may look like the flu at first — fever, chills, weakness, cough — but the symptoms will quickly worsen. Eventually you may cough up blood and experience severely swollen lymph nodes that abscess and drain, especially on the neck.

If you suspect your symptoms may be caused by the plague, get yourself to a doctor or hospital immediately, and try to avoid contact with others.


  • Avoid touching sick or dead animals of any kind.
  • Keep an eye on your pets when they’re outside. Don’t let them hunt wild animals.
  • Make sure your outdoor pets are properly guarded against fleas.
  • Keep wood piles and brush far away from your house, and exterminate regularly.
  • Make sure rodents can’t get to your pets’ food and water.

There’s no reason the plague should take hold in this age of modern medicine, but carelessness can easily open the door to it again, so take precautions whenever you can.

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