A child in Idaho has been diagnosed with a disease the belongs more the Middle Ages than the modern world.

As KTVB News reports, Idaho’s Central District Health Department (CDHD) announced this week that a boy from Elmore County had been diagnosed with the plague. The agency did not release the name or age of the victim, though they did say he is now recovering after treatment.


The bubonic plague brings to mind images of the “Black Death,” which devastated medieval Europe. While uncommon, it still affects a handful of people every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately seven Americans contract the plague every year. The cases generally occur in the Southwest and West Coast of the U.S.

The CDHD says that ground squirrel die-offs in 2015 and 2016 pointed to an issue with plague in the Elmore area, but there was no such die-off this year. The victim did travel to Oregon recently, but the CDHD does not know if he contracted plague at home or during the trip.

ABC News reports that since 1990, Idaho has seen two cases of plague and Oregon has had eight cases. The plague first came to the U.S. in 1900, via infected rats on ships traveling from affected areas (e.g. Asia).

Sarah Correll, an epidemiologist for the CDHD, told KTVB that the plague is transmitted by fleas from infected animals and occurs naturally in rodent populations, like Idaho’s ground squirrels:

“Once in a while we have kind of a resurgence int he area south of the airport, out in the desert, all the way to Elmore County.”

Symptoms of the plague include fever, chills, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes. It can be treated with antibiotics, but requires immediate attention to avoid serious or fatal complications.

Avoiding plague — both for people and pets — means taking precautions against infected fleas. When in an area where plague may be present, the CDHD recommends avoiding wild rodents and their carcasses as well as not leaving food or water near your campground or home where rodents can reach them. 

In addition, the CDHD advises using insect repellent and wearing protective clothing. Correll said in a statement:

“People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife. Wear insect repellent, long pants and socks when visiting plague-affected areas.”

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