CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Department of Health on Wednesday, September 15 reported that a case of pneumonic plague has been detected in a northern Fremont County resident.
The person who contracted the plague reportedly had contact with sick pet cats.
Cases of the plague are rare among humans. The WDH reports that just seven cases among residents or nonresidents have been detected since 1978. The last time a case was detected in Wyoming was a nonresident who acquired the plague in Teton County in 2008.
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Pneumonic plague is the most serious form of plague, according to the WDH, and is the only type of plague that can spread from person to person. The health department is notifying people who may have had contact with the positive individual and who may need treatment.
“Pneumonic plague can develop from inhaling infectious droplets or may develop from untreated bubonic or septicemic plague,” the department said.
Plague in general is “a bacterial infection that can be deadly to humans and other mammals, including pets, if not treated promptly with antibiotics,” the WDH said. “Individuals with a known exposure to plague require post-exposure treatment with antibiotics to help prevent illness.”
“Plague symptoms depend on how the patient is exposed. The most common form is bubonic plague, where patients develop the sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, and weakness and one or more swollen, painful lymph nodes called buboes. This form usually results from the bite of an infected flea.”
“Individuals with septicemic plague develop fever, chills, extreme weakness, abdominal pain, shock, and possible bleeding into the skin and other organs. Septicemic plague can occur as the first symptom of plague or may develop from untreated bubonic plague and can be caused by the bite of an infected flea or the handling of an infected animal. Individuals with pneumonic plague develop fever, headache, weakness, and a rapidly developing pneumonia with shortness of breath, chest pain, and sometimes watery or bloody mucous.”
Wyoming State Health Officer and Epidemiologist Dr. Alexia Harrist said that the risk of contracting plague in humans is very low in Wyoming. Cases have been documented in domestic and wild animals.
“It’s safe to assume that the risk for plague exists all around our state,” Harrist said. “While the disease is rare in humans, it is important for people to take precautions to reduce exposure and to seek prompt medical care if symptoms consistent with plague develop.”
To reduce the risk of plague, WDH recommends:
- Reducing rodent habitats around the home, workplace, and recreational areas by removing brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood, and possible rodent food supplies.
- Wear gloves if handling or skinning potentially infected animals to prevent contact between your skin and the plague bacteria.
- Use repellent if exposure to fleas is possible during activities such as camping, hiking, or working outdoors. Products containing DEET can be applied to the skin as well as clothing.
- Keep fleas off indoor and outdoor pets by applying flea control products. Animals that roam freely outdoors are more likely to come into contact with plague-infected animals or fleas.
- If pets become sick, seek care from a veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free to share beds with people.