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Idaho Child Infected With Plague, Officials Uncertain Where Patient Contracted Bacterial Disease

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Health officials on Tuesday revealed that a child from Elmore County in Idaho has contracted the plague. They are not also sure if the unnamed patient was infected in the state or during a recent trip to Oregon.

Patient Given Antibiotics And Is Now Recovering

The Central District Health Department in Idaho said that the diagnosis was confirmed this week. The child, who is now recovering, has received antibiotic.

Without treatment, the bacterial disease can be deadly in about 60 to 90 percent of cases. Death rate from the plague has dropped by about 16 percent as antibiotic treatments became available.

Disease Killed Millions In Europe During The Black Death Pandemic

The plague is caused by a type of bacteria known as Yersinia pestis. The disease is best known for killing millions in Europe in the 1300s during the Black Death pandemic. Today, the infection rarely occurs in the United States.

Figures from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that between the years 1970 and 2012, the average number of plague cases reported in the country per year is just seven. An unusually high number of plague causes, however occurred in 2015, with 16 total cases. Only eight cases of the disease have been confirmed in Oregon, and two in Idaho since 1990.

How Plague Is Transmitted

The plague occurs naturally in rodent populations, including ground squirrels in Idaho but fleas spread the disease between animals.

"Scientists think that plague bacteria circulate at low rates within populations of certain rodents without causing excessive rodent die-off. These infected animals and their fleas serve as long-term reservoirs for the bacteria," the CDC said.

Plague in humans can be transmitted through direct contact with infected animals or bite from fleas. Person-to-person transmission can happen but this rarely happens and health officials said that the case of the child in Idaho does not pose risk to others.

Safety Measures To Limit Flea Exposure

Nonetheless, health experts urged everyone in the area to take extra precautions to limit exposure to fleas.

People should avoid sick or dead animals, keep their pets from running loose, treat their pets for fleas, bring sick pets to the veterinarian, keep food in rodent-proof containers, and avoid rodent dens.

"People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife," said Sarah Correll, CDHD epidemiologist. "Wear insect repellant, long pants and socks when visiting plague-affected areas."

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