A second person who was bitten by the same Crook County cat sick with plague in June has tested positive for antibodies to the disease on follow-up blood work, Crook County Health Department officials said Friday.
The woman, who asked not to be identified at this time, was bitten by the cat at the same time as the Crook County man who became ill with the plague in June.
“When I was notified of the first case of plague on Sunday afternoon (June 10th), my role as communicable disease coordinator was activated. With the help of the sick man’s family, a list was put together of all persons who might be at risk.” said Karen Yeargain of Crook County Health Department.
“At that time, one of those people happened to be at an out-of-area hospital with a family member. Her efforts there to receive treatment as a contact to a case of plague were being met with disbelief, as you might imagine, and it just wasn’t happening.
"As we later found out, she was also starting into early symptoms that were similar to our known case. With my phone call confirming that this was real, the hospital Emergency Department literally walked her medication to the room where she was located and got her started. We got to her just in time. If this hadn‘t happened, we would have had another critically ill person on our hands.”
On learning that she had also been bitten by the sick cat, there was suspicion that the woman’s symptoms were early plague, but it was the lab results from blood sent to the CDC showing the presence of antibodies to the plague bacteria that confirmed the diagnosis. Those results were received by the Crook County Health Department late last week.
Paul Gaylord, the Prineville-area man hospitalized for weeks, is still recovering at home. Gaylord spent almost a month on life support after he and the woman were bitten while trying to remove a mouse from the sick cat's throat.
Plague is a bacterial illness that is spread through the bite of infected fleas or through direct contact with an animal or person who is sick with the disease.
In the Crook County cases, attempting to help the sick outdoor cat, which tested positive for the plague after its death, was the cause of the illnesses. There was no spreading of the disease from person to person.
According to Yeargain, one thing that can happen in a community when a rare disease occurs is that folks don’t know much about the illness and become afraid to be around the person who had the disease.
Like other bacterial illnesses, plague is killed by the correct antibiotics. Once it is treated, it is gone. The person no longer has the illness and cannot pass it to others.
However, if friends, neighbors and community members shun the person who is recovering from the plague, because of unfounded fears, it can make returning to a normal life that much harder, she said.
“Someone who is recovering from the plague (or other severe illness) needs the support of their community” says Yeargain. “That friendly smile and a handshake can make a real difference!”