Enlarge / A cat, but not the one with plague. (credit: Getty | Silas Stein)

An Oregon resident contracted bubonic plague from their “very sick” pet cat, marking the first time since 2015 that someone in the state has been stricken with the Black Death bacterium, according to local health officials.

Plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, circulates cryptically in the US in various types of rodents and their fleas. It causes an average of seven human cases a year, with a range of 1 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cases tend to cluster in two regions, the CDC notes: a hotspot that spans northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, and southern Colorado, and another region spanning California, far western Nevada, and southern Oregon.

The new case in Oregon occurred in the central county of Deschutes. It was fortunately caught early before the infection developed into a more severe, systemic bloodstream infection (septicemic plague). However, according to a local official who spoke with NBC News, some doctors felt the person had developed a cough while being treated at the hospital. This could indicate progression toward pneumonic plague, a more life-threatening and more readily contagious variety of the plague that spreads via respiratory droplets. Nevertheless, the person’s case reportedly responded well to antibiotic treatment, and the person is recovering.

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