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Oregon Cat Tests Positive for Bubonic Plague and is Recovering

A cat in Prineville, Oregon has tested positive for plague. The cat is recovering. Oregon Public Health Division, Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that that the cat tested positive for plague.

Plague cases are rare in Oregon and flea treatment for household pets can help prevent plague. Plague is spread to humans through a bite from infected fleas. People can protect themselves, their family members and their pets," said Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., M.P.V.M., Oregon Public Health Division state public health veterinarian. "Using flea treatment on your pets is very important, because your pets can bring fleas into your home. Plague is serious, but it is treatable with antibiotics if caught early."

Plague is rare in Oregon. Only three human cases have been diagnosed since 1995 and they all recovered. Symptoms typically develop within one to four days after exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness and a bloody or watery cough due to infection.  Pneumonic plague is an infection of the lungs and septicemic is an infection of the blood.

People should contact their health care provider if plague is suspected and a veterinarian if pets or other animals exhibit symptoms consistent with the plague.

Early treatment for pets and people with appropriate antibiotics is essential to curing plague infections. Untreated plague can be fatal for animals and people. Antibiotics to prevent or treat plague should be used only under the direction of a health care provider.

Plague can be passed from fleas feeding on infected wild mammals to pets such as cats and to their human owners. Last year two human cases of plague were diagnosed in Lake County in 2010. Further investigation revealed that the family dog had also been exposed to plague. All survived. 

"To protect your pets, avoid flea exposure by being around areas with fleas or other pets carrying fleas, and treat your pets for fleas to help prevent this disease," DeBess said. "Call your local veterinarians for assistance in what products are safe for use in pets, because some treatments may be toxic to your pet."

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.

Some additional steps to prevent flea bites are to wear insect repellant, tuck pant cuffs into socks when in areas heavily occupied by rodents, and avoid contact with wildlife including rodents. Pet owners are encouraged to keep cats indoors.

Source: Oregon Public Health