Plague Case Reported in Idaho Child

A case of plague was reported in Elmore County, Idaho, in a young boy who is currently recovering with the administration of antibiotics.

In a recent report by the Central District Health Department (CDHD), a case of plague was reported in Elmore County, Idaho, in a young boy who is currently recovering with the administration of antibiotics.

While it is unknown whether the child contracted the plague in Idaho or in Oregon while on a recent trip, the rare and infectious disease has been previously reported in both states. Only ten human cases have been documented since 1990, with 8 reported in Oregon and 2 in Idaho.

Although the incidence of plague in humans is rare, it has been responsible for the deaths of millions in the past. Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that carries the various types of plague, is the culprit responsible for the fatality of nearly two-thirds of Europe's population in the 14th century during the Black Plague.

In humans, the sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, and weakness characterize the plague’s main symptoms, which most often occur within 2 to 6 days of exposure. Painful swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin, armpit, or neck are also common occurrences in a majority of cases.

“Plague is spread to humans through a bite from an infected flea. People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife,” commented Sarah Correll, DVM, Central District Health Department epidemiologist in a recent statement. “Wear insect repellant, long pants and socks when visiting plague affected areas.”

Known to naturally occur in some rodents, a couple of years back (2015 and 2016), Idaho detected the disease in ground squirrels inhabiting Elmore and South Ada counties. However, the CDHD notes that this past year no unusual behavior or die-offs have been reported. Disease transmission in humans can occur with direct contact with infected animals or fleas, but person-to-person transmission is extremely rare.

In animals, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite characterize main symptoms of plague infection in addition to swelling in the lymph nodes under the jaw of pets. To reduce the risk of morbidity in both people and animals, a timely diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment is necessary.

The CDHD’s main advice for taking adequate, preventative measures with the plague in humans and pets is to avoid rodents and rodent carcasses utilize flea-repellent products for pets. In addition, the CDHD advises keeping food, water, and hay, wood, and compost piles far away and out of reach to discourage rodent attraction. Findings of dead squirrel groups should be reported to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.