Public health officials said Wednesday that initial tests have identified a case of plague in Georgia. A Department of Public Health spokeswoman told GHN...

Public health officials said Wednesday that initial tests have identified a case of plague in Georgia.

A Department of Public Health spokeswoman told GHN that tests by the state show an individual in Georgia has the disease. CDC testing results have not yet been completed.

DPH-Logo-Center-HeightThe patient has the bubonic version of the plague, which is less transmissible than the pneumonic version, said the spokeswoman, Nancy Nydam.

The individual, whose name has not been released, returned to Georgia last week from hiking in California and then became sick, Nydam said. The patient has been hospitalized and treated with antibiotics, and may be released from the hospital Wednesday.

Health officials say the patient will fully recover, but that there may be lingering symptoms for a few days.

The CDC is also investigating the case.

Plague, an infectious bacterial disease, is infamous for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages, when its cause was unknown and unsanitary conditions sometimes allowed it to spread uncontrollably. But plague is now well understood, public health practices have greatly limited its spread, and modern antibiotics are effective in treating it.

The disease first arrived in the United States in 1900. From then to 2012, more than 1,000 confirmed or probable human plague cases occurred across the nation, but there has never been a recorded case of human plague in Georgia.

Currently, there is an investigation into plague-infected animals in Yosemite National Park, Sierra National Forest and surrounding areas in California where hiking is common.

One human case of plague already had been confirmed in the Golden State.

NBC News reported Tuesday that a second person in California – a visitor from Georgia – got tested after hearing that parts of Yosemite had been closed to spray pesticides to kill fleas that carry the infection.

Yosemite National Park

View of Yosemite from Glacier Point

One popular campground  was closed last week and another is closed this week for spraying after a Los Angeles girl came down with plague after visiting there and two dead squirrels were found to have been infected, NBC News reported.

“Warnings issued in California regarding plague were useful all the way across the country in Georgia,” California Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement.

“Those warnings helped the patient get the prompt medical attention necessary to recover from this illness.”

Plague can look like the flu and can turn into a deadly illness if not treated promptly with antibiotics. Symptoms include a sudden fever, a severe headache, nausea and chills.

In addition to the California cases, two people contracted the plague this year in Colorado, CNN reported. Both of them died of the disease.

Plague is carried by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas. When an infected rodent becomes sick and dies, its fleas can carry the infection to other warm-blooded animals, including humans.

Humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague.

Plague is not transmitted from human to human unless a patient has a lung infection — pneumonic plague — and is coughing. Human-to-human transmission is rare and typically requires direct and close contact with the person with pneumonic plague.

Dr. Patrick O'Neal

Dr. Patrick O’Neal

“Antibiotics are effective in treating plague, but without prompt treatment, the disease can cause serious illness or death,” Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of health protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health, said in a statement Wednesday. “People who develop these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention and notify their health care provider that they have been camping or out in the wilderness and have been exposed to rodents and fleas.”

People traveling to areas where plague is most commonly found, such as the Western United States, can protect themselves from infection by avoiding any contact with wild rodents.

Medicine has come a long way since the Black Death during the Middle Ages, with antibiotics and antimicrobial medicines among the tools to aid those with the plague, CNN reported. But it hasn’t eliminated the disease entirely, even in developed countries like the U.S.

The CDC reports that the United States has about seven cases annually.

In addition to the CDC, the Georgia Department of Public Health is working on this investigation with the California Department of Health, the National Parks Service and Yosemite National Park.


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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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