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First human case of plague in Idaho since 1992 confirmed in Elmore County child

A prairie dog stands guard on a large prairie dog town in the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge about 80 miles north of Lewistown, Mont. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
A prairie dog stands guard on a large prairie dog town in the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge about 80 miles north of Lewistown, Mont. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

A child in Elmore County was confirmed to be infected with the plague this week, according to the Central District Health Department, marking the first human diagnosis in Idaho since 1992.

The child is recovering after receiving antibiotics.

Cases of plague in Idaho were diagnosed in squirrels as recently as 2016, though none have been found in southern Ada County or Elmore County this year. It is unknown whether the child was exposed to the disease in Idaho or during a recent trip to Oregon.

Plague has been found historically in wildlife in both states. Since 1990, there have been two cases of plague in humans in Idaho and eight in Oregon.

“Plague is spread to humans through a bite from an infected flea. People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife,” Sarah Correll, a Central District Health Department epidemiologist, said in a statement. “Wear insect repellant, long pants and socks when visiting plague affected areas.”

 (Center for Disease Control)
(Center for Disease Control)

According to the CDHD, plague among humans is rare but can be found in local ground squirrels and other rodents naturally. It can be spread by contact with an infected animal or through fleas. Human symptoms of plague usually appear within two to six days of contact and include fever, chills, headaches and often a swelling of lymph nodes under the armpit, the CDHD said.

Plague activity can increase in the spring and summer months when rodents are more active. People can greatly reduce their risk of becoming infected by taking simple precautions. No one should feed rodents in parks and picnic or campground areas, and people should never handle sick or dead rodents.