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California sees first case of plague in 5 years after patient bitten by infected flea while walking their dog

The patient, whose name, age, and sex were not revealed for legal reasons, is currently recuperating at home under the care of a medical professional
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

California has registered its first positive case of the bubonic plague in five years.

According to a press release from the El Dorado County Health and Human Services Agency, officials believe the person was bitten by an infected flea while walking their dog in South Lake Tahoe. The patient, whose name, age, and sex were not revealed for legal reasons, is currently recuperating at home under the care of a medical professional.

This comes just weeks after a New Mexico man in his 20s died of the disease in the state's second reported case this year.

According to the World Health Organization, Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is transmitted to humans from bites of infected fleas. Known symptoms include "fever, nausea, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes" which typically appear "within three to seven days." While the disease is deadly, it is treatable with antibiotics if detected at an early stage. If left untreated, the mortality rate is anywhere between 30 percent and 100 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of human plague are very rare and an average of just seven are reported per year. That said, infections are more common in some areas in the US. Dr. Nancy Williams, El Dorado County Public Health Officer, stated in the press release how the plague is "naturally present in many parts of California, including higher elevation areas of El Dorado County."

"It's important that individuals take precautions for themselves and their pets when outdoors, especially while walking, hiking, and/or camping in areas where wild rodents are present," she added.

The release stated that health officials between 2016 and 2019, had found at least 20 rodents with evidence of exposure to the bacterium that causes the disease. During this period, however, there were no reports of plague-related illnesses.

The last reported case of plague in the Golden State was in 2015, when two people were exposed to infected rodents or fleas in Yosemite National Park and recovered later. The disease had caused a devastating epidemic in Europe in the mid-1300s and resulted in the so-called Black Death, which claimed the lives of more than 20 million people -- or one-third of the continent's population at the time.

Aside from the New Mexico death, it emerged that Chinese officials had sealed off a city and a village in the Inner Mongolia region after multiple reports of bubonic plague-related deaths in the country. A 15-year-old boy from Ulaankhus soum of the autonomous region was hospitalized after having a high fever. Reports said the boy had eaten a marmot hunted by a dog.

An official of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, has said that locals in the region believe that eating raw marmot meat and kidney will help them in maintaining good health despite the fact that marmots are a carrier of the plague bacteria. As per reports, the latest health warning in the region of Bayannur won’t be terminated until the end of 2020. "At present, there is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city. The public should improve its self-protection awareness and ability, and report abnormal health conditions promptly,” a statement from the local health authority stated.