The black plague is generally thought of as being over and done with, having existed from 1348 to 1350, claiming nearly 100 million lives in the 14th century. Cases today are isolated and extremely rare, but one man in Oregon has recently shown symptoms, sparking fear that the black plague could be returning.
"This can be a serious illness," Emilio DeBess, Orgeon's public health veterinarian told OregonLive.com, "but it is treatable with antibiotics, and it's also preventable."
The 50-year-old patient, whose name has not been released by officials, reportedly fell ill after being bitten by a mouse. He developed a fever a few days after being bitten and checked himself into St. Charles Medical Center in Redmond but was later transferred to the St. Charles Medical Center in Bend.
He is currently being treated for the plague, which includes symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, abdominal pain and bleeding from the mouth, nose or rectum. The plague is caused by Yersinia pestis bacterium, which may reside on fleas or other infected animals.
In this case, the mouse could have carried the bacteria and, once it bit a human, he became infected as well. The cat that carried the mouse into the home died a few days later, and it is not known yet whether the cat or mouse was the initial carrier.
"Taking a mouse out of a cat's mouth is probably not a good idea," DeBess added.
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There have been four other reported cases of the plague in Oregon alone, though there are 1,000 to 3,000 cases of plague every year, globally, reports the World Health Organization (WHO). The last plague epidemic occurred in Los Angeles in 1924, and since then, no other widespread plague has been reported.
Fortunately for this latest victim, the odds of recovery are in his favor, as new technology has been developed and is more effective.