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Public health officials confirm recent Crook County plague case

Public health officials today received confirmation that plague is the cause of illness in a Crook County man who remains hospitalized in critical condition at St. Charles Hospital in Bend. Word was received through the Oregon State Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Emilio De Bess, while he and a crew of epidemiologists were in Prineville assisting Crook County Health Department with the disease investigation.
   According to Dr. De Bess, "The State Public Health Laboratory today completed testing and have confirmed that plague is the organism responsible for the illness in the Prineville-area man."
   The man's exposure to plague came from contact with a sick outdoor cat. Family told us that the cat Charlie, who was usually very social and affectionate, came home after a several day absence appearing gravely ill. In the attempt to help his cat, the man became infected with the plague bacteria, Yersinia Pestis. The cat died and its body has been sent to the Centers for Disease Control for testing.
   Persons who were in contact with the sick man have been notified and are receiving preventive antibiotics. There have been no additional cases of illness from this exposure found at this time.
   Plague is spread to humans or animals through a bite from an infected flea or by contact with an animal sick with the disease. Fleas that normally live on rodents are the source of the plague bacteria. Domestic cats come into contact with these fleas, or with rodents who have been infected by the fleas, when they are roam outdoors and hunt rodents.
   "The reality is that, in rural areas, part of the role of cats is to keep the rodent population controlled around our homes and barns" says Karen Yeargain, Communicable Disease Coordinator, Crook County Health Department. "People can protect themselves, their family members and their pets by using flea treatment on your pets to prevent them from bringing fleas into your home. Sick animals should always be handled carefully to prevent exposure to plague or other diseases."
   A domestic cat in Crook County tested positive for plague a year ago. That cat was treated and did recover. Now is the season for increased rodent population and people should take precautions to avoid rodents and their fleas, which can expose them to plague.
   Plague is rare in Oregon. Only three human cases have been diagnosed statewide since Crook County's last case of plague in 1995. There were no fatalities in humans or household animals in these cases.
   Symptoms of plague typically develop within one to four days after exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness and a bloody or watery cough due to infection. Three clinical syndromes have been described; bubonic (lymph node infection), septicemic (blood infection), and pneumonic (lung infection).
   Collin Gillin, D.V.M., Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, reminds people that if anyone observes sick or dead rodents of any kind, to contact the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarians at 1-866-968-2600.
   Health authorities offer the following recommendations to prevent plague:
   " Avoid sick or dead rodents, rabbits and squirrels, and their nests and burrows.
   " Keep your pets from roaming and hunting.
   " Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on your pets.
   " Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live, such as woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned vehicles.
   " Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.
   " See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever.
   " Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from your home.
   " Don't leave your pet's food and water where mice can get to it.
   " Veterinarians and their staff are at higher risk and should take precautions when seeing suspect animal plague cases.