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Woman Is Treated for the Plague

April 19, 2006|Michelle Keller | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles woman is being treated for bubonic plague, the first case of the age-old pestilence in the county since 1984, health officials announced Tuesday.

The infected patient, whose identity was withheld, came down with symptoms last week and continues to be treated in a hospital for the disease, which is characterized by swollen, black lumps under the skin, officials said. She may have contracted the disease from fleas in the area around her Country Club Park neighborhood.

Although the disease is "rare, it is important to remember that this still can happen," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

Traps have been set out for squirrels and other wild animals in the area to determine the extent of exposure, officials said. Neighbors are being warned to avoid contact with dead animals and fleas from rodents and pets.

Although human cases of the plague are uncommon, it is endemic to ground squirrels and some rodents in parts of the Angeles National Forest, Tehachapi, Lake Isabella and Frazier Park.

An outbreak of the plague beginning in 1347, infamously known as the "Black Death," wiped out as much as one-third of Europe's population in the Middle Ages. After the 14th century, the plague reoccurred sporadically for the next 500 years.

The last major urban epidemic in the United States occurred in Los Angeles in 1924, resulting in dozens of deaths. On average, about five to 15 people get the plague every year around the country, mostly in rural areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bubonic is primarily transmitted through flea bites or direct contact with infected open wounds or sores.

Most become sick two to seven days after infection. Symptoms include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, headache, muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhea. It is treated with antibiotics.

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