Measles, hepatitis A, plague: 5 recent and ongoing outbreaks

Various regions of the United States have experienced outbreaks spurred by bacteria, viruses and parasites in recent months. Some of these events have neared epidemic proportions, while others have been relatively small in scale. Five such outbreaks are detailed below.


1. Plague 

Health officials in New Mexico confirmed two new cases of plague on June 26, increasing the statewide 2017 human plague case total to three. All three cases occurred among residents of Santa Fe County and required hospitalization. None of the infected individuals have died.

Plague is an illness caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria and is typically spread from rodents to humans via the bites of infected fleas. Rodents in large swaths of the Western U.S. are known to carry plague. In 2016, all four U.S. plague cases were located in New Mexico.

There are three types of plague: bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic. Symptoms of all three illnesses include fever and weakness. Bubonic plague causes swelling of the lymph nodes, septicemic plague can cause skin and other tissues to turn black and die, and pneumonic plague can result in respiratory failure and shock. Pneumonic plague is the most lethal with a 90 percent fatality rate.

Paul Rhein, communications director with the NMDH, informed Becker's two of the New Mexico plague cases were bubonic and one was pneumonic. When caught early, plague can be treated with antibiotics.

2. Salmonella

The CDC is currently investigating eight multistate Salmonella outbreaks linked to poultry kept in people's backyards.

CDC officials identified 372 illnesses caused by Salmonella exposure across 47 states from Jan. 4 to May 13. Seventy-one of the cases required hospitalization, but no deaths have been reported.

Several different strains of Salmonella caused the outbreaks, including Salmonella Braenderup, Salmonella Enteritidis, Salmonella Hadar, and Salmonella Typhimurium, among others.

3. Angiostrongylus cantonensis

Health officials in Hawaii had confirmed nine cases of rat lungworm disease in the state   as of April 11.

The rare disease is caused by a parasite known as Angiostrongylus cantonensis, which is often carried by rats. In humans, infection with the parasite can affect the brain and spinal cord and can often present as bacterial meningitis.

The CDC is monitoring the recent spike of parasitic infections in Hawaii.

4. Hepatitis A

San Diego County Health officials on June 10 confirmed the fourth death related to an outbreak of hepatitis A that has sickened nearly 200 people in 2017. 

The majority of cases have occurred among the homeless population and illicit drug users. Health officials have not identified a common drug or food source as the catalyst for the outbreak.

Hepatitis A is highly communicable and contracted when a person comes into contact with fecal matter from an infected individual via person-to-person contact or the consumption of contaminated food or water. Symptoms of hepatitis A infection include abdominal pain, a low-grade fever, nausea, fatigue and jaundice.

5. Measles

Seventy-eight Minnesotans have contracted the measles since April. While the outbreak has reached four counties, the vast majority of cases have occurred in Hennepin County, where 69 individuals have been sickened.

Among all cases in the state, 65 occurred among the Somali Minnesotan community. Immunization rates among this population declined in recent years due to the spread of misinformation regarding immunization fueled by debunked pseudo-science linking the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine to autism.

The outbreak may be reaching its end, as the Minnesota Department of Health has seen a significant decrease in the number of samples sent in for measles testing in recent weeks. State epidemiologists are also not aware of any additional symptomatic individuals that need to be monitored. However, health officials have not officially declared the outbreak over.

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