US man contracts the plague saving a mouse
A MAN in Oregon is severely ill in hospital with a suspected case of the plague, thought to have been contracted as he tried saving a mouse from the jaws of a stray cat in his neighbourhood.
The unnamed man, said to be in his 50s, was bitten as he attempted to extract the rodent from the cat’s mouth, although it was unclear from which animal he caught the disease.
"Taking a mouse out of a cat's mouth is probably not a good idea," said Emilio DeBess, the public health veterinarian for Oregon.
After falling ill with a fever a few days later, he checked into a hospital where doctors said he was exhibiting classic symptoms of the devastating 14th Century disease.
Initially he showed signs of the Bubonic plague, including swollen lymph nodes in his armpits and groin. He then had abdominal pains and bleeding – a symptom of Septicaemic plague.
The Black Death, one of the worst pandemics in human history, was caused by an outbreak of the plague, resulting in the deaths of 25 million people in Europe between 1348 and 1350.
The man is undergoing tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Modern drugs can cure the disease if administered soon enough – however a vaccine for the plague is not currently sold in America. Without the inoculation, around 70 per cent of plague victims usually die within a few days of exposure.
“This can be a serious illness. But it is treatable with antibiotics, and it's also preventable," Dr DeBess said.
The bacterium that causes the plague, Yersinia pestis, is carried by rodents and other carnivores including cats and dogs. There are around 10 to 20 cases of the plague each year, most contracted through fleas that have feasted on the blood of an infected animal.
Only four people have died from the disease since 1934.
The cat, which had been living in the man’s neighbourhood for around six years, has since died and its body is being examined by experts.