A rare disease that was responsible for approximately 75 million deaths in Europe in the 1300s has reappeared in the Pacific Northwest United States. Yersinia pestis, more commonly known as the Black Plague, has been diagnosed in an Oregon man who is currently in critical condition at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend. The man, reportedly in his 50s, has not been identified by name.
According to a report in the Daily News, the Oregonian became infected when he was bitten on the hand by a mouse on June 2d. He fell ill several days after the bite and is now suffering from septicemic plague – the most severe stage of the disease which occurs once the yersinia bacteria have spread into the bloodstream.
Blood tests have not yet confirmed the case as bubonic plague, but the county health department’s communicable disease coordinator reported that all of the telltale symptoms are present in the man’s case. He was admitted to the hospital suffering from high fever, stomach pain, bleeding mouth, nose and anus and necrotic tissue. In other words, all signs point to plague.
About 1,000-3,000 cases of bubonic plague are reported globally each year, according to the Center for Disease Control. Of those couple thousand cases, only about 10 to 15 arise in the United States. This Oregon man is just the fifth person to contract the plague in the Beaver State since 1995.
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Modern antibiotics have proven effective in treating the disease, but the yersinia bacterium is virulent. According to the CDC, 1 in 7 cases are still fatal – a surprisingly high death toll for any bacterial infection.