The media widely reported that a man in Oregon had contracted the plague after being bitten by a mouse. The Plague is a bacterial disease carried by rodents. It is spread from one rodent to another by fleas. Humans bitten by an infected flea usually develop a bubonic form of plague which is characterized by a swelling of the lymph node draining the flea bite site.
If the bacteria reach the lungs, the patient develops pneumonia (pneumonic plague), which is then transmissible from person to person through infected droplets spread by coughing. Initial symptoms of bubonic plague appear 7–10 days after infection.
If diagnosed early, bubonic plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Pneumonic plague, on the other hand, is one of the most deadly infectious diseases; patients can die 24 hours after infection. The mortality rate depends on how soon treatment is started, but is always very high.
Plague outbreaks in the US are very rare; on average 10-20 people a year diagnosed. In the past decade there have been plague outbreaks in Africa, China and Peru. The last outbreak recorded by the WHO was in August 2010 and identified 10 strains of Y. pestis from humans, rodents and domestic cats. Rentokil are currently working on a project in Africa clearing the desert of plague infested rats. Good hygiene practice and pest control is essential for the prevention of any disease.