First human case of plague since 1992 found in Elmore County

CDC via Getty Images The Oropsylla montana flea can be a carrier of the Yersinia pestis bacteria that causes the plague

The case in Elmore County, just east of Boise, is the first human case in the state since the early 1990s, and is believed to be the only one reported in the United States this year.

Central District Health Department epidemiologist Sarah Correll says the disease is spread to humans through a bite from an infected flea.

A state health official told the Idaho Statesman newspaper that the public is advised to "wear insect repellant, long trousers and socks when visiting plague affected areas".

The health department reminds southern Idaho recreationists that plague is risky to people and pets and for people to be aware of what to look for when in the Idaho outdoors.

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. Since those discoveries, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, public health districts and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare have been working to raise awareness of plague in the area each year.

One of the oldest identifiable diseases known to man, the plague is still widely distributed in the warm parts of the world.

- Wear gloves if you are handling or skinning potentially infected animals to prevent contact between your skin and the plague bacteria.

In the US, people can contract the plague when disposing of squirrels or mice that died from the infection or traveled to an area where infected animals live.

Don't feed rodents in campgrounds, picnic areas, or near your home.

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

- Keep fleas off your pets by applying flea-control products.

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

Since 1940, only five human cases of plague have been reported in Idaho.

Clean up areas near your home where rodents can live, such as woodpiles, and put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as away as possible.

Much less common is the pneumonic plague, which can occur when a bubonic or septicemic plague is not treated and a person's lungs become infected.

Rapidly developing pneumonia with shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, bloody or watery mucous.

CDHD says prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment can greatly reduce the risk of death in people and pets.

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