An unidentified woman was admitted on April 13 with a fever, swollen lymph nodes and other symptoms. A blood test confirmed she had contracted the bubonic plague that is a bacterial disease. This disease, known as the Black Death swept across Europe in the 14th century, killing up to one-third of the population.
Health officials said it was the first confirmed human case in Los Angeles County in more than 22 years. They explained that the plague is usually transmitted to humans from the bites of fleas infected by dead rodents. The health officials suspect the woman was exposed to fleas at home.
Head of Los Angeles County public health, Dr Jonathan Fielding, explained that the disease is very common among animals such as squirrels rarely spreads to humans. He explained that fortunately, human plague infection is rare especially urban environments, and this single case should not be a cause for alarm in the area where this occurred.
The health officials have started investigating the source of the disease and are planning to set traps to catch squirrels and other wild animals in the area around where the woman lives. Blood tests will be performed on any animals caught to determine if they were exposed to the plague bacteria.
The plague symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea, headache, sore throat, fatigue and swollen, tender lymph nodes associated with the arm or leg that has fleabites. The disease is treatable with antibiotics.
According to the statistics of the federal government, about 10 to 20 Americans contract plague each year, mostly in rural communities and 1 in every7 cases is fatal. The last human cases of plague in Los Angeles County occurred in 1984 when three people contracted the disease. Two of those cases were travel-related and the third involved a person exposed to a sick animal. All three survived.
The health officials warned campers and hikers that in the Angeles National Forest and other parks California, bubonic plague might be prevalent among squirrels and to take precaution against the disease by avoiding infected animals. The local health departments ask the doctors to report any suspected case immediately as it is a state law, as the plague is considered as a bio terrorism agent. Bubonic plague is not contagious, but if left untreated it can turn into pneumonic plague, which can be spread from person to person.