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Oregon man reportedly contracts the plague after trying to rescue mouse from cat

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A Rocky Mountain Laboratories image depicting the Yersinia pestis bacteria, which causes the plague (AP)

An Oregon man appears to be suffering from the plague after he tried to rescue a mouse from the mouth of a feral cat.

"This can be a serious illness," Emilio DeBess, state public health veterinarian, tells the Oregonian. "But it is treatable with antibiotics, and it's also preventable."

The unnamed man, in his 50s, is receiving medical attention and is listed as being in critical condition. Doctors have not officially confirmed that he is suffering from the plague but say he is showing several symptoms leading to a likely diagnosis.

What may be the most fascinating aspect of his condition is that this is not the only recent case of the plague in Oregon or in the U.S. In fact, The Oregonian says it's the fifth such case in the Beaver State since 1995. DeBess says Oregon holds the record for modern cases of the plague in the U.S. with about one case per year since 1934. In that time, four people have died from their symptoms associated with the blood infection.

There is a plague vaccine, but the illness has become so rare in the U.S. that the vaccine is no longer sold here. Even though cases of the plague are rare, the bacteria that causes it still exists and is fatal in more than 90 percent of untreated cases.

The man was reportedly bitten on June 2 and checked himself into a hospital on June 8. He is said to be suffering from symptoms of septicemic plague, the rarest of the three known forms of the blood infection in which the Yersinia pestis bacteria can manifest.

And before anyone starts pointing fingers, DeBess said doctors still aren't sure whether the man contracted the illness from the cat or the mouse. The cat, which has since died, has been taken to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing.

"Taking a mouse out of a cat's mouth is probably not a good idea," DeBess said.

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