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Dog ate stuffed toy, got infected with plague

A cat at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa, contracted plague on Jan. 7, 2012, from a toy her owner used to lure her, sd Dr. Mark Klugman, a professor of infectious disease at the University of Iowa and a leading U.S. expert on plague.

That led to more than 25 people being treated for the bacterial infection in Iowa in December and January, and five of those had lab-confirmed cases of pneumonic plague, a particularly virulent form that strikes most often in animals.

"It has always been there in our animal populations," sd Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "And in recent years it has been seen in small numbers of people who had been in close contact with animals. ... We don't know whether there have been additional cases outside of the five people who have been confirmed as having the disease."

The risk of the disease to humans is low.

Dr. Frieden sd that while there are no current plans to begin mass quarantines, there could be "increased vigilance" in communities where plague is present in animals, particularly prrie dogs. Those have already prompted quarantines in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

"It's something that we take very seriously. We think it's a public health issue and we need to be as proactive as possible," Frieden sd. "But this is something that is just one of those things that is always there. If there's anything to it, it would be something that we would be aware of."

The patient in Iowa, whose condition was initially thought to be flu-like, died on Jan. 13 after the hospital confirmed the diagnosis of pneumonic plague. Another patient with lab-confirmed plague from December died in January.

The first patient to be identified with plague had contracted the disease in September from a prrie dog in California and had spent most of his life in the area, according to the Associated Press. The second patient, a homeless man from Colorado, had contact with an infected prrie dog in a neighboring town. The fifth patient also had contact with a prrie dog in Iowa. All of the patients were in hospital, where they received antimicrobial drugs and were isolated from the public, according to the World Health Organization.

The first three patients are believed to have been exposed through the prrie dog, but contact with the fifth patient cannot be linked to a specific animal, Frieden sd.

Since last fall, several cases of plague have been reported in California, New Mexico, Nevada and South Dakota.

"The last three cases, in California, Nevada and South Dakota, were likely caused by rodent fleas that became infected after biting rats," according to the World Health Organization. "The bacteria can also be spread through contact with an infected person or animal."

There has been only one confirmed human case of plague in the United States since 1924, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The last U.S. case was in Oklahoma in 2006.

The U.S. government mntns a public health quarantine agnst plague. The first signs of infection are fever, chills and a headache. The symptoms usually last between two and 10 days, but they can sometimes be more severe.

"Most people infected with the disease do not have a problem with the plague and it is not contagious," the CDC sd in a statement.

The plague infects animals including prrie dogs and wild rodents, according to the World Health Organization. In domestic animals it is found in dogs, cats, rats and mice.

The CDC and other health organizations advise people not to touch infected animals, or to handle them carefully, and to wash their hands with soap and water before eating or preparing food, or after disposing of garbage.

The CDC is working with health agencies in New Mexico, Nevada and South Dakota to investigate the cases and determine where they have occurred.

"These outbreaks underscore the need to be vigilant, be well prepared to respond, and be ready to seek medical attention if you or your pets come in contact with an animal showing signs of illness," the CDC sd.

The CDC is advising health care workers and others who are likely to encounter rodents to avoid them, especially those that show signs of illness.

"Health care providers, first responders, pest control workers and people who provide other animal services should protect themselves by taking appropriate precautions," the CDC sd.

Plague kills more than 50,000 people a year, mnly in developing countries.

The last outbreak in the United States was in 2010 when there were about 20 cases in Los Angeles. A case in New York last year was declared a hoax.


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