An Oregon man is at death's door in a hospital battling a rare case of the infamous “Black Death” plague after being bitten by a cat, health officials said.
The unidentified man, who is in his 50s, was bitten on the hand while trying to pull a mouse away from a stray cat on June 2 and got sick several days later, doctors at St. Charles Medical Center-Bend told The Oregonian newspaper.
The man was thought to be suffering from septicemic plague — meaning the ruthless bacteria was spreading in his bloodstream — and was in critical condition on Tuesday, doctors said.
Karen Yeargain, the county health department's communicable disease coordinator, told The Oregonian that officials were working to confirm that the man had the plague, but that all the symptoms were there, including stomach pain, bleeding mouth, nose and anus and dying tissue.
He's just the fifth person to catch the plague in the state since 1995. Only about 10 to 15 people in the United States catch the frightening illness each year, typically in western states.Globally, health officials report about 1,000 to 3,000 cases per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Famously known as "Black Death," the disease killed around 75 million people — around a third of the population — when it swept through Europe in the 14th century. Victims were often left with blackened, rotted tissue around their noses, lips, fingers and toes.
It can be treated with antibiotics, but 1 in 7 cases are fatal, according to the CDC.
Rat-borne fleas usually carry the bacterium that causes the plague — Yersinia pestis — and humans can catch it from contact with rodent or other animals.
Oregon health officials don't know if the man was bitten by the cat or the mouse. The cat, a stray that had wandered the man's rural Crook County neighborhood for around six years, has since died and was sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing.
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