Dog Infects Humans With Plague For First Time In U.S. History

Health officials say a Pit Bull was responsible for a plague outbreak last summer, making it the first time in the United States a dog has spread the disease to a human.

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An American Pit Bull Terrier in Colorado caused the largest outbreak of pneumonic plague in the United States since 1924, according to a new CDC report.VeraJacobsPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock
An American Pit Bull Terrier in Colorado caused the largest outbreak of pneumonic plague in the United States since 1924, according to a new CDC report.VeraJacobsPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock

If you think the plague is a thing of the past, think again. Especially when it may come to your pet.

An infected dog caused four Colorado residents to become infected with the plague last summer, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2-year-old American Pit Bull Terrier became sick last June — with jaw rigidity and a fever, as well as other symptoms — and quickly became worse, having to be euthanized.

On June 29, four days after the dog was put down, his owner went to the hospital with a fever and bloody cough, but according to the CDC report, the man’s condition was misidentified at first. As his symptoms became worse, a lab test was redone. Results showed the owner had been infected with pneumonic plague. A test of the dog’s remains also came back positive for the plague bacteria.

The dog’s owner remained hospitalized for 23 days while he recovered, health officials said in the report. Others exposed include a close contact of the owner and two veterinary employees. All had in some way handled the dogs, although officials said it is unclear whether the dog or the dog’s owner transmitted the disease to the close contact. All three were successfully treated with medication after exhibiting symptoms, per the CDC.

Yersinia pestis. decade3d/iStock/Thinkstock

Yersinia pestis. decade3d/iStock/Thinkstock

The plague is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium and can take different clinical forms. The bubonic plague, which killed millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages, usually results from the bite of an infected flea. Pneumonic plague is the most serious form, according to the CDC, and is spread by coughing.

Symptoms of pneumonic plague include fever, headache, weakness and a rapidly developing pneumonia with shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, according to the CDC.

The only previously published case of direct transmission of the plague from a dog to a human was reported out of China in 2009, health officials stated in the report. This Colorado outbreak was the largest pneumonic plague outbreak in the United States since 1924, they said.

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