Every Year, A Few Americans Still Get The Plague

The recent news thata Colorado man was diagnosed with the plaguemay have left some wondering: Does that still happen here?

The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is yes.

While the last plague epidemic in the United States was back in 1924, when 37 people died in Los Angeles, the much-feared disease still surfaces in humans from time to time, though it’s very infrequent — and fully treatable with antibiotics if it’s caught in time.

“Plague… spread from urban rats to rural rodent species, and became entrenched in many areas of the western United States,” the CDC explains. “Since that time, plague has occurred as scattered cases in rural areas.”

Between 1900 and 2010, there were 999 “confirmed or probable” cases in the U.S. More than 80% of those were “bubonic,” where the bacteria infects the lymph nodes. (The Colorado man had pneumonic plague, indicating that the infection was in the lungs — a deadlier form of the disease and the only way it can be spread from person-to-person without the help of fleas or rats.)

Here’s a look at how many people have had the plague each year since 1970 (2012 is the most recent year shown):

While the plague is not much of concern in the U.S., the the World Health Organisation receives reports of 1,000 to 2,000 cases each year, a number that may underrepresent the true number of infections. “Plague epidemics have occurred in Africa, Asia, and South America,” the CDC notes, “but most human cases since the 1990s have occurred in Africa.”

Here’s a look at global reports of the plague between 2000 and 2009:

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