An elderly person died from plague this month, Utah health officials said Thursday. An investigation into how, where and when the person was infected with the flea-borne infection is ongoing. The person did not travel to an area where plague is common. No other information about the patient is known at this time.
People are usually infected after a flea becomes infected from a rodent such as a rat, squirrel or chipmunk, and then transmits it to a person by biting them.
Patients usually develop symptoms between two and six days after exposure. They include generally feeling sick, a sudden fever, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
Patients can be successfully treated with antibiotics but only if they are diagnosed and begin treatment early.
This is the first human case of plague in Utah since 2009, said JoDee Baker with the Utah Department of Health. The state has cases of animal plague almost every year, especially in rural areas.
Plague occurs in rural and semi-rural areas of the Western United States, most commonly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.
The bacteria that causes the plague, Yersinia pestis, is naturally occurring in the environment and is found in areas where there are wild rodents.
There have been 12 cases of plague diagnosed this year in seven states. Four of the 12 patients have died.
On Tuesday, the CDC said the number of cases of plague is higher than usual this year. They released a report detailing the cases so far this year and said they wanted physicians to keep it on their radar especially if they see patients with a fever or swollen lymph nodes who have traveled to an area where the bacteria are known to be present.
Patients this year in California and Georgia have been linked to areas in or near Yosemite National Park, according to the CDC.
Cases can occur year-round, but are likely to appear from late spring to early fall. Five of this years cases occurred in July and four in August. Kwit said it’s hard to say whether there will be more cases this year.