Plague Confirmed in Oregon Man Bitten by Stray Cat
Health officials have confirmed that an Oregon man has the plague after he was bitten while trying to take a dead rodent from the mouth of a stray cat.
The unidentified Prineville, Ore., man was in critical condition on Friday. He is suffering from a blood-borne version of the disease that wiped out at least one-third of Europe in the 14th century - that one, the bubonic plague, affects lymph nodes.
There is an average of seven human plague cases in the U.S. each year. A map maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that most cases since the 1970s have been in the West, primarily the southwest.
The plague bacteria cycles through rodent populations without killing them off; in urban areas, it's transmitted back and forth from rats to fleas. There's even a name for it, the "enzootic cycle."
The bacteria thrive in forests, semi-arid areas and grasslands, which plague-carrying rodents from wood rats to rock squirrels call home.
Once a coin flip with death, the plague is now easier to handle for humans in the U.S. The national mortality rate stood at 66 percent before World War II, but advances in antibiotics dropped that rate to its present 16 percent.
Central Oregon health officials don't blame the cat.