Health officials in Los Angeles have confirmed the city’s first human case of bubonic plague in more than two decades.
They say a woman, who was not identified, was admitted April 13 with a fever, swollen lymph nodes and other symptoms. A blood test confirmed she had contracted the bacterial disease. Officials said she was placed on antibiotics and is in stable condition.
Though this case is notable because it’s the first one reported in Los Angeles in decades, plague is endemic in many areas of the United States, though it’s infrequently transmitted to humans (we average between 10-20 human cases a year, mostly in the southwestern states). Like the recent mumps outbreak, this should serve as a reminder that even when we have a disease under control, it doesn’t mean it’s been eradicated. Luckily, plague can be fairly easily treated with antibiotics and therefore it’s not nearly the threat it was during the era of the Black Death, but concerns persist that the bacterium (Yersinia pestis) could be used for bioterrorism, in which case the biggest worry is that antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be released.