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Plague in humans

A child in Elmore County was confirmed to be infected with the plague this week, according to the Central District Health Department, marking the first human diagnosis in Idaho since 1992.

The child is recovering after receiving antibiotics.

Cases of plague in Idaho were diagnosed in squirrels as recently as 2016, though none have been found in southern Ada County or Elmore County this year. It is unknown whether the child was exposed to the disease in Idaho or during a recent trip to Oregon.

Plague has been found historically in wildlife in both states. Since 1990, there have been two cases of plague in humans in Idaho and eight in Oregon.

“Plague is spread to humans through a bite from an infected flea. People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife,” Sarah Correll, a Central District Health Department epidemiologist, said in a statement. “Wear insect repellant, long pants and socks when visiting plague affected areas.”

According to the CDHD, plague among humans is rare but can be found in local ground squirrels and other rodents naturally. It can be spread by contact with an infected animal or through fleas.

Human symptoms of plague usually appear within two to six days of contact and include fever, chills, headaches and often a swelling of lymph nodes under the armpit, the CDHD said.

Plague activity can increase in the spring and summer months when rodents are more active. People can greatly reduce their risk of becoming infected by taking simple precautions. No one should feed rodents in parks and picnic or campground areas, and people should never handle sick or dead rodents. Health officials offer other suggestions:

See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever.

Keep your pets from roaming and hunting voles or other rodents. Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian, especially if they may have had contact with sick or dead rodents.

Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on pets. Not all products are safe for cats, dogs or children.

Don’t leave pet food and water where rodents or other wild animals can access them.

Clean up areas near your home where rodents can live, such as woodpiles and lots with tall grasses and weeds.

Put hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible from your home.

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