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Man Gets "The Black Death" After Being Bitten by Stray Cat

Fortunately, officials have decided not to revert to medieval attitudes and blame the disease on the cat.

 |  Jun 18th 2012  |   10 Contributions


An Oregon man is in the hospital in critical condition, fighting off a case of "the black death," better known as bubonic plague.

According to state public health veterinarian Emilio DeBess, the unidentified man says he was infected when he tried to save the life of a mouse by getting it out of a cat's mouth. The cat in question was a stray that had decided to take up residence on the family's property. Either the cat or the mouse bit the man -- the victim wasn't sure which -- and he contracted a blood-borne version of the disease.

The cat is dead now, although the resources I checked didn't say exactly how the feline died, and his body was sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to see if he was the "black death" plague carrier.

The bubonic plague -- not quite like this anymore. Image: Illustration of the Black Death from the Toggenburg Bible (1411)

When people hear the words "bubonic plague," they tend to freak out. After all, the disease ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages -- after the Church went on a cat-killing campaign because they thought cats were related to the Devil and rats ran rampant. The disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, and it's carried by fleas.

The good news is that the plague is easily cured these days because, well, we've got antibiotics. I imagine the man who was bitten is so sick because he didn't go to the hospital right away.

The other good news is that Oregon health officials aren't blaming the cat. "The reality is that, in rural areas, part of the role of cats is to keep the rodent population controlled around our homes and barns," said Karen Yeargain of the Crook County Health Department.

As such, the cats are doing more to control the plague than to spread it.

By preying on rodents, cats actually help to control the spread of the plague. Cat and mouse by Shutterstock

The plague never disappeared after the Middle Ages. In fact, there have been cases of the plague reported in many parts of the U.S. Oregon itself has had five reported cases of the plague since 1995.

As for DeBees, he's conducting an investigation to see whether the plague is more widespread. He's been in the man's hometown of Prineville, collecting blood samples from the the man's other pets, as well as neighbors' pets and animals in the local shelter. Authorities have also notified people who were in contact with the sick man, who are receiving antibiotics to prevent the potential development of the disease.

Source: ABC News

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