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Plague Kills U.S. Lab Worker
Date:2/24/2011

octors gave him oxygen, then, suspecting heart failure, they gave him diuretics. When it became apparent it was an infection, they also administered antibiotics.

Nevertheless, he died 13 hours after being admitted to the hospital.

Doctors didn't know that the man had worked in a lab until September 16, at which time they contacted health authorities as well as officials from the lab, housed at a university.

The researchers found traces of bacteria early on in the investigation but weren't able to confirm that it was Y. pestis until the 18th of September.

Although it seems clear that the man contracted the infection at work, even now, authorities aren't sure exactly how he contracted it. It could have been inhaled or it could have entered through a cut or wound on his skin.

They're also not sure why he died, although they have a strong suspicion.

The man had an underlying blood disorder called hemochromatosis, which involves harboring too much iron.

The strain of the microbe he was working with was weak because it didn't have enough iron.

Once the bacteria entered the man's body, his extra iron might have been enough to overcome the bacteria's weakness, rendering it as virulent as some of its cousins.

"The issue of hemochromatosis is well described in the literature. The focus on iron and the disruption of iron is actually a target for new antibiotic development," said Hinrichs. "The condition very likely contributed to his disease [and] his death."

According to CDC statistics, there are 10 to 15 isolated cases of plague a year in the United States and the World Health Organization reports there are 1,000 to 3,000 cases globally each year as well.

The CDC's latest report noted that last year in Oregon, two members of the same household contracted plague, apparently from fleas residing on their dog. In what were the only U.S. cases of plague seen in 2010, both individuals recovered.


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