Plague Found In Cat From Hart Flat

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The Kern County Department of Public Health has just learned that tests conducted on a domesticated cat from Hart Flat, California, have been confirmed positive for Y. pestis, the bacteria that causes plague.

The Vector Control Section of the California Department of Health Services and the Kern County Environmental Health Department are collaborating with the Kern County Department of Public Health to investigate this case. There is no evidence of human infection at this time. Appropriate preventive steps including antibiotics have been recommended to protect those who may have been exposed to this cat. The infected cat is responding well to antibiotics.

"Plague is still very much alive, although we may want to believe that it is an obsolete disease of the past," says B.A. Jinadu, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health Services and Health Officer of Kern County. "The most effective weapons in fighting this disease are public awareness, education, and preventative measures to reduce the risk for exposure."

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Plague, infection with the bacteria Y. pestis, is endemic throughout the southwest United States, including much of Kern County. Each year numerous mammals, including domestic cats, are identified with evidence of infection with Y. pestis. Since 1990, the CDHS has documented evidence of plague infection in over 25 domestic cats in California.

Cats are believed to be the domestic species most susceptible to plague. As in humans, three clinical syndromes have been described: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. Bubonic is the most common manifestation and is characterized by high fever (105-106 degrees F), lethargy, and swollen lymph glands, most commonly of the glands of the neck and under the jaw in cats but in the inguinal area in humans. Infected lymph nodes may spontaneously abscess and drain.

Cats can pose a risk of plague transmission to humans. Because of the potential for transmission to humans, cats suspected of having plague should be hospitalized and placed in isolation. Persons having significant contact with a plague-infected cat, particularly cats with respiratory signs or draining abscesses should consult with their health care provider regarding the need for a prophylactic course of antibiotics. Local and state public health officials should be notified immediately of cases of plague diagnosed in domestic cats.

Plague is known to be related to fluctuations in rodent population at elevations greater than 2500 feet. Residents and visitors in these regions are advised to take the following precautions:

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