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California reports first bubonic plague case in five years

The Advertiser 2020-08-20 06:30:00

A Californian resident has tested positive to the bubonic plague – the first case in the US state in more than five years.

El Dorado County health and human services agency confirmed the plague case on Monday after being notified by the California Department of Public Health.

“A South Lake Tahoe resident has tested positive for plague,” the agency said, adding the person was recovering at home under the care of a medical professional.

“It’s believed that the person, an avid walker, may have been bitten by an infected flea while walking their dog along the Truckee River Corridor,” the agency said.

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El Dorado County is on the border with Nevada, east of Sacramento.

“Plague is naturally present in many parts of California, including higher elevation areas of El Dorado County,” the county’s public health officer Dr Nancy Williams said in a statement.

“Human cases of plague are extremely rare but can be very serious,” she said.

The bubonic plague is responsible for the worst pandemic in recorded human history, killing as many as 200 million people during the Black Death pandemic in the 14th century.

Nowadays it’s manageable with antibiotics but the Yersinia pestis bacterium that causes it is still present in small animals, particularly rodents like rats and squirrels.

Fleas can often transfer the bacteria from them to other animals or to people.

Symptoms usually present within a fortnight of exposure to an infected animal and include fever, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes.

The last time California had a plague case was in 2015, when two people were infected in Yosemite National Park.

Both were treated and recovered.

Before that the most recent case was in 2006.

Earlier this month a village in China was quarantined after a resident died of the plague.

And in July, a 15-year-old in Mongolia died after contracting bubonic plague from a wild marmot he hunted and ate, with authorities quarantining those who had been in contact with the youth.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports an average of around seven plague cases a year, mainly in rural areas in the west of the country.

Originally published as First ‘plague’ case in five years