Oregon Woman Contracts “Black Plague” from Cat

| by Denise A Justin

A woman who tried to help her friend save a cat that was choking on a mouse contracted Bubonic plague from the diseased feline, Portland health officials announced on Friday, September 14.

“Black Plague,” or Bubonic plague, is a bacterial illness spread through the bite of infected fleas or through direct contact with an infected animal or person. Although the disease is now rare,  Bubonic Plague killed an estimated 25 million Europeans in the Middle Ages and was once called the "Black Death." There have been about seven cases a year in the U.S., according to public health statistics. 

The woman, who wished to remain unidentified, was bitten at the same time as Paul Gaylord, who received national attention this summer when he almost died after contracting the infection. The 59-year-old Prineville man was hospitalized in critical condition with Black Plague on June 9 and spent nearly a month in intensive care on life support. "His heart stopped," said his mother, Almeda Gaylord. "His lung collapsed. They told us he wasn't going to make it." On July 11, doctors announced that they would have to sever the top half of Gaylord's fingers. They'll also cut off the tips of his toes.

Charlie, Gaylord's cat, most likely was infected by a flea carrying the plague, officials concluded. The Oregon woman who was a “family friend” tried to help Gaylord when Charlie came home one day choking, with a mouse stuck in the back of his mouth.

Gaylord tried to pull the mouse out and in the process, Charlie bit him and the woman. When they realized they couldn't help the cat, Gaylord reportedly borrowed a gun from a neighbor and shot Charlie to stop his suffering, according to
Public health officials sent the cat's body to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It confirmed that Charlie had the plague, said Emilio DeBess, state public health veterinarian. 
Gaylord thought he had the flu when he developed a high fever two days after the bite. Several days later, when the lymph nodes under his arms swelled to the size of lemons, doctors rushed him to the hospital and put him on life support in the ICU. "I was delirious," he said. "Things didn't seem real. The clock ran backwards." He said his days became a haze of hallucinations.

His progress has been bumpy but steady. In early July Gaylord was moved out of ICU into a private room.  He's learning how to use a spoon that is attached to his wrist, according to reports.

Doctors announced it would be necessary to sever the withered, blackened ends of his fingers and tips of his toes because the plague causes an infection that kills cells. Fingers and toes can become gangrenous.  Gaylord will have to learn how to walk again and use his hands, reports.

He will not be able to return to his job as a welder.

The woman, identified only as a “Gaylord family friend,” had left the area when she started showing symptoms, including fever, chills and pain in the lymph nodes. Aware of Gaylord’s situation, she was immediately treated with antibiotics at a Portland hospital, reports

"We got to her just in time," said Karen Yeargain of the Crook County Health Department, “we would have had another critically ill person on our hands," she added.

Although Oregon health officials suspected the woman had the plague, on Friday lab results from the federal Centers for Disease Control confirmed it, Yeargain said.


.In Colorado, Bubonic Plague was contracted in August 2012 by 7-year-old Sierra Jane Downing while camping in southwest Colorado with her parents.

The little girl found a half-eaten squirrel while on a picnic with her family on Aug.19 in Pagosa Springs and begged to be allowed to bury it, according to ABC News. "We told her to stay away from it, but when she went down to the creek to play with her 13-year-old sister, Sierra Jane went back to the squirrel, put her sweatshirt down next to it, and then picked up the sweatshirt and put it around her waist," her  mother, Darcy Downing, told ABC News.

Five days later, Sierra Jane woke up with a fever and was vomiting, and by 9 p.m. her father found her lying on the bathroom floor. When he picked her up to bring her back to bed, the girl threw up again and then had a seizure, according to the ABC report.

Her father rushed her to the local hospital, where Sierra Jane’s temperature elevated to 107 and was brought back down to 103 by doctors.  She was then flown to Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver. By 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sierra Jane's condition had worsened and she was transferred to pediatric ICU for septic shock.

Dr. Jennifer Snow, the pediatric critical care specialist ran some blood tests on the girl, who was in disseminated intravascular coagulopathy--meaning her blood would not clot.

Dr. Snow questioned the family and learned of the exposure to the dead squirrel, exposure to mouse droppings in chicken coops, and exposure to a dead skunk.  She found a report of a 16-year-old with fulminant septic shock in the chest whose cause of death was listed as bubonic plague.

Doctors at Rocky Mountain Hospital found tiny bites around Sierra Jane's torso, where she had tied that sweatshirt after it had been placed next to the dead squirrel.

Dr. Wendi Drummond, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, recommended starting the girl on gentamicin, an antibiotic used to treat many types of bacterial infections. Sierra Jane completed her course of antibiotics on September 5 and was released to finish her recovery at home, ABCNews reported.