California has its first case of plague in 5 years. How likely are you to catch – Health News Today

In the Middle Ages, the plague caused tens of millions of deaths in Europe in a series of outbreaks known as the Black Death. And while it’s extremely rare in modern times, the deadly bacterial infection is still around today — but how likely are you to catch it?

This week, California reported its first case of plague in five years. The patient, a resident of the South Lake Tahoe area, is said to be recovering at home. And in July, a 15-year-old boy in western Mongolia died of bubonic plague that he contracted from an infected marmot.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 3,248 cases were reported worldwide between 2010 and 2015, resulting in 584 deaths. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Peru were the most affected countries. 

Reports of the plague can be scary — but experts say there’s little cause for concern in most cases. 

What is the plague?

Plague is a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which affects humans and other mammals. There are three types of plague: bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic. 

Bubonic is the most common form, accounting for more than 80% of cases in the U.S.  Pneumonic plague is the most serious. 

Many animals can get the plague, including rock squirrels, wood rats, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, mice, voles, and rabbits. It’s typically transmitted from animals to humans, with much more rare cases of the disease being spread person to person.

Squirrel tests positive for plague in Colorad…

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How is the plague transmitted? 

The plague is transmitted through fleas that live on rodents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People typically get bubonic or septicemic plague after they are bitten by a flea that is carrying the bacterium. 

Humans may also contract the disease when handling an animal that is infected, resulting in either bubonic or septicemic plague.

In some cases, people can catch the pneumonic plague when an infected person coughs, causing infectious droplets to spread. This is the only way for the plague to spread between people.

Cats and dogs can both lead to human infections. Cats are particularly susceptible to getting sick, and have been linked to several cases of human plague in the U.S. via respiratory droplets in recent decades.

What are the symptoms of the plague? 

A key symptom of the bubonic plague is buboes: painful, swollen lymph nodes in the groin or armpits. Other symptoms include fever, weakness, coughing and chills. 

Patients with septicemic plague develop fever, chills, extreme weakness, adnominal pain, shock and possibly internal bleeding. Skin and other tissues, especially on fingers, toes, and the nose may turn black and die.

Patients with pneumonic plague — the most serious form of the disease — develop fever,…