Published September 18, 2012
PORTLAND, Ore. – A woman who tried to help her friend save the life of a choking cat also contracted the plague from the disease-stricken feline over the summer.
The central Oregon woman, who asked not to be identified, has recovered since contracting the disease in June. She was treated after showing early symptoms.
The woman was bitten at the same time as Paul Gaylord, who made national headlines when he almost died from a version of the infection that killed millions in the Middle Ages.
Plague is a bacterial illness spread through the bite of infected fleas or through direct contact with an infected animal or person. The disease is now extremely rare. There are about seven cases a year in the U.S.
The two had found a stray cat in distress, choking on a mouse. They were bitten when they tried unsuccessfully to help the animal.
The 60-year-old Gaylord spent nearly a month on life support. The woman, identified only as a Gaylord family friend, was out of the area when she started showing symptoms, including fever, chills and pain in the lymph nodes. She was treated with antibiotics at a Portland hospital.
"We got to her just in time," said Karen Yeargain of the Crook County Health Department.
"If this hadn't happened, we would have had another critically ill person on our hands," she added.
Health officials suspected the woman had the plague, but it was not confirmed until lab results from the federal Centers for Disease Control came back last week, Yeargain said.