Idaho Child Diagnosed With Plague; Only 5th Human Case In State’s History

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This most recent case marks the first human diagnosis in Idaho since 1992, but in recent years there have been outbreaks in the local squirrel population.

The child is from Elmore County, near Boise.

Central District Health Department epidemiologists say it is not known whether the child was exposed to plague in Idaho or during a recent trip to Oregon. Flea bites spread bubonic or septicemic plague, which both cause fever and weakness.

The health department reminds southern Idaho recreationists that plague is unsafe to people and pets and for people to be aware of what to look for when in the Idaho outdoors. People can greatly reduce their risk of becoming infected by taking simple precautions.

That said, researchers previous year found traces of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium which causes the plague, among squirrels in Elmore County. That list includes rats, voles, and ground squirrels, all of which can be found in Idaho.

The bubonic plague is the most common form of plague and is characterized by painful swollen lymph nodes.

When a child in Idaho had a spiking fever, his parents rushed him in to a health care provider this week and were surprised to learn that he had an unlikely case of the bubonic plague. It can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with an infected animal or flea, but person-to-person transmission is considered extremely rare. No one should feed rodents in parks and picnic or campground areas, and people should never handle sick or dead rodents.

Keep your pets from roaming and hunting rodents. Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian, especially if they may have had contact with sick or dead rodents.

Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on pets as not all products are safe for cats, dogs or children.

Don't leave pet food and water where rodents or other wild animals can access them.

Put hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible from your home. Pneumonic plague includes shortness of breath, chest pain, cough and sometimes bloody mucous. Left untreated, people can still die from the plague.

Antibiotics are now effective in treating the disease, but officials say without prompt treatment, it can cause serious illness or death.