Idaho child diagnosed with plague; only fifth human case in state history

Idaho child diagnosed with plague

A child in southern Idaho's Elmore County is recovering from the bacterial disease of plague, the first confirmed human case of plague identified in the state since 1992.

For just the fifth time since 1940, an Idaho resident has been diagnosed with the 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.

Ken Gage, a researcher focused on vector-borne disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR in 2014 that there are a number of rodents in the American West that are susceptible to plague.

The Idaho child is recovering after receiving treatment, according to the health department.

This plague case, like others that appear rarely but with some regularity, is the same disease that was responsible for the medieval "Black Death". That list includes rats, voles, and ground squirrels, all of which can be found in Idaho.

There are a few plague cases every year in the USA, mostly in the rural West and especially the Southwest.

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A state health official told the Idaho Statesman newspaper that the public is advised to "wear insect repellant, long trousers and socks when visiting plague affected areas".

According to the most recent data, there were no deaths from plague in 2016, but four in 2015.

In the US, the areas where the plague is more common include northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern OR and western Nevada. There were 16 cases reported that year, the second-most since 2000.

Skin and other tissue, normally on fingers, toes and the nose, can turn black and die.

Much less common is the pneumonic plague, which can occur when a bubonic or septicemic plague is not treated and a person's lungs become infected.

While it may sound like something out of the Middle Ages, the plague infects around seven Americans a year, and is generally treatable with antibiotics. Cats with plague pneumonia can give it to people. People can reduce the chance of encountering plague by avoiding contact with wild rodents, their fleas and rodent carcasses. In rural areas with semi-arid forests and grasslands, these animals spread the disease amongst themselves. Can develop from untreated bubonic plague.

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