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7-year-old Colorado girl survives bubonic plague

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A seven-year-old Pagosa Springs, Colo., girl is recovering from an extremely rare disease that harkens back to a deadly epidemic in the Middle Ages.

Sierra Jane Downing is recovering well from a case of bubonic plague at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver, 9News in Denver reports.

Bubonic plague was known as the Black Death in the 14th century and killed 30 to 60 percent of the European population. Victims died from the flea-borne disease within days of being infected.

But things are much different now.

And in Sierra's case, alert doctors picked up on the symptoms quickly and started her on a regimen of antibiotics that lead to a recovery.

Sierra was admitted to the hospital with a fever of 107 degrees. She was delirious, having seizures and had a high heart rate. It turns out that Sierra had came in contact with a dead squirrel at a park near her home recently, according to reports. Bubonic plague is often transmitted from a flea bite, and it's suspected that fleas from the dead animal jumped to Sierra, causing her illness.

After some tests Dr. Jennifer Snow and Dr. Wendi Drummond began to suspect Sierra might have an extremely rare case of bubonic plague.

"I had never seen it," Snow told 9News. "You learn about it in medical school during microbiology, but I had never seen a case of it before."

There are about 11 cases a year reported in the U.S. The last report of the disease in Colorado was in 2006, the TV station reports.

If not treated, bubonic plague can progress quickly to shock and then cause organs to fail, Drummond told the Denver Post.

The doctors' smart diagnosis was apparently correct, because Sierra is out of the intensive care unit and is smiling and talking again.

"I'd never seen a bubonic plague case before, and I hope to never see it again," Drummond said in the 9News story.

Earlier this year an Oregon man contracted bubonic plague as he was pulling a dead mouse from his cat's mouth. Paul Gaylord, 59, survived but lost his fingers and toes because of the disease.

Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and an infectious disease expert, said he doesn't expect to see a massive outbreak of bubonic plague again.

"This is not a disease of the past, but you are never going to see a massive outbreak of plague in this country," Seigel told HealthDay. "We don't have the public health problems we used to have and people would be quickly confined if there were ever a large number of cases."

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