After accidentally being bit by his cat, Paul Gaylord is lucky to be alive. His cat had infected Gaylord with the plague.
Gaylord, who lives with his wife at the rural foothills of the Cascade mountain range in Oregon, recently told the Guardian how the incident occurred.
Gaylord, then 59, found his cat, Charlie, choking on a mouse after being missing several days in the woods one Saturday in 2012. Immediately Gaylord attempted to clear the cat's throat but was bit on his hand. The next day the cat was seen suffering enough to cause Gaylord to have the cat put down. However, it wasn't until Gaylord returned to his job on Monday that he realized just how sick Charlie had been.
After developing a high fever, flu-like symptoms, and large lumps in the glands under his arms, Gaylord was taken to the hospital by his wife. Doctors diagnosed him with bubonic plague.
"I knew rodents could carry the disease, but I didn't realize I could get it from my cat," Gaylord told the Guardian.
His condition worsened —also developing pneumonic (which infects the lungs) and septicaemic plague (which infects the bloodstream), even having his heart stop at one point — and ended up in a coma for 27 days.
"Technically, I shouldn't be here," Gaylord told the Guardian.
Despite losing several fingers and toes due to the severity of the infection, Gaylord says he feels positive and happy to be alive.
"I think it's just a fluke that I caught this," he said. "Now I hope to make people aware of the illness."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health department eventually investigated Gaylord's home and surrounding area, even digging up his cat, Charlie, and sending it off to a lab where it was confirmed to have the plague. However, they were unable to find the dead rodent or any other sign of the disease.
Contrary to popular belief the Plague – sometimes referred to as "Black Death" due to its killing of millions during the Middle Ages — is still active around the world. According to the CDC, "People most commonly acquire plague when they are bitten by a flea that is infected with the plague bacteria."
A young Colorado girl was also diagnosed with the plague in 2012.
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