A Child in Idaho Is Recovering From the Bubonic Plague—Here’s What to Know About the Infection
Yes, the bubonic plague still exists in the United States.
A child in Elmore County, Idaho, is recovering after being infected by the bubonic plague recently.
The Central District Health Department reported that the unidentified boy was exposed to the infection either in his home state or on a recent trip to Oregon–the plague has been found in wildlife in both of those states before.
While this sounds scary considering mankind's devastating history with the plague, the bubonic plague is curable in modern times. The boy was treated with antibiotics in a hospital and is now recovering at home, TIME reports.
In medieval times, the plague pandemics had such dire consequences because the origin was unknown, so the infection was hard to prevent and not curable. Today, however, we know the bubonic plague, as well as the two other common forms, pneumonic and septicemic, is a bacterial infection you can get from infected fleas. The fleas are always looking for hosts, which is how the plague spreads. After a rodent or pet they've infected dies, they travel to find their next host. Humans can also become infected
While the plague is not common in humans nowadays–there's an average of seven cases in the United States each year–there are still precautions worth taking and symptoms to look out for if you think you or your child has been exposed to the infection because, if left untreated, the plague is a very serious condition.
Symptoms usually occur two to six days after someone is exposed to the plague, when they start to experience sudden chills, fever, headache, and weakness. The bubonic plague, which accounts for more than 80 percent of the plague infections in the United States, patients also develop swollen and sore lymph nodes (called buboes).
According to Sarah Correll, D.V.M., Central District Health Department epidemiologist, “People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife.“Wear insect repellant, long pants and socks when visiting plague affected areas.”
In the United States, cases of the plague are most common in northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, souther Colorado, California, southern Oregon, and far western Nevada.
The CDC lists out further steps you can take if you're worried about exposure, like wearing gloves when dealing with animals you think may be infected with the plague and reducing habitats suitable for rodents around your home and work.
While we have effective antibiotics and precautions in the United States, some countries around the world are not as medically-equipped to deal with the bubonic plague. In November 2017, Madagascar experienced a plague outbreak, but the World Health Organization notes there have been no cases associated with tourism and that travel does not need to be restricted because the plague is contained.