California Child Contracts Plague in Yosemite, the 3rd US Case in Recent Months

This digitally-colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicts a number of purple-colored Yersinia pestis bacteria, the pathogen that causes bubonic plague.

A child who got the plague while camping in Yosemite National Park in July is now recovering, the LA Times reported.

After a family visit to the park’s Crane Flat National Campground, the child fell ill and was hospitalized. State officials are now working with public health, park, and forest officials to find out how he or she got sick.

The child’s infection was caused by the same bacterium (Yersinia pestis) that was the culprit in the Black Death, which decimated Europe’s population in the 14th century. People can become infected by a flea bite, or by contact with an infected animal, such as a squirrel, chipmunk, or other rodent.

The disease is treatable with antibiotics, but if left untreated, it is fatal in 30% to 60% of cases, according to the World Health Organization.

The California case is the third one in recent months. Last week, a woman died of plague in a rural part of Colorado’s Pueblo County. And a Colorado teen died of the disease in June. But cases of plague in the United States are still rare — the last one in California occurred in 2006, and only about 7 cases are reported across the country each year.

When plague does crop up in the US, it usually occurs in rural parts of western states, including southern Colorado, northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, California, southern Oregon, and western Nevada. These areas are home to rodents that carry the disease, especially prairie dogs.