Thursday, April 20, 2006

Los Angeles County Bubonic Plague Case

By now you've probably heard about the confirmed case of bubonic plague reported in Los Angeles County, USA. It's the first human case of plague in a L.A. County resident since 1984. The affected individual resides in the Country Club Park area of the city of Los Angeles.

Although the investigation is continuing, it's believed the woman affected may have been exposed to fleas in the area around her home.

A few facts about bubonic plague:

"Bubonic plague is not usually transmissible from person to person," says Jonathan Fielding, M.D., M.P.H, Director of Public Health and Health Officer, Los Angeles County. "Fortunately, human plague infection is rare in urban environments, and this single case should not be a cause for alarm in the area where it occurred."

Plague is an infectious disease of animals and humans caused by a bacterium named Yersinia pestis.

People usually get plague from being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an infected animal. Both male and female fleas can transmit the infection.

Bubonic plague is endemic among ground squirrels around Tehachapi, Lake Isabella, Frazier Park, and in the Angeles National Forest between Los Angeles and Antelope Valley. Los Angeles County health officials annually send out warnings for campers, hikers and residents in those areas to take precautions against the disease mainly by avoiding ground squirrels and their fleas.

Bubonic plague symptoms:

"Plague is characterized by fever, muscle aches, nausea, headache, sore throat, fatigue, and swollen, tender lymph nodes associated with the arm or leg that has flea bites and is treatable with antibiotics," states Dr. Roshan Reporter of the Acute Communicable Disease Control Program. "The disease often causes illness serious enough to warrant hospitalization, but if treated is rarely fatal."

Millions of people in Europe died from plague in the Middle Ages, when human homes and places of work were inhabited by flea-infested rats. Today, modern antibiotics are effective against plague, but if an infected person is not treated promptly, the disease is likely to cause illness or death. (Source: Center For Disease Control)

For further info regarding bubonic plague, here are a few helpful resources:

1. CDC Plague Home Page
2. LA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES - Official News Release on the Plague Case
3. California Department of Health Services Plague Brochure (.pdf format)

LA area emergency responders and professional health care providers might also be interested in joining the Los Angeles County's Health Alert Network (HAN) Partner Registry which launched on March 10, 2006. Here's the link for further details.