7-Year-Old Colorado Girl Survives Bubonic Plague

Category: Health / Sep 06, 2012 2:42PM EDT

A seven-year-old girl in Colorado is recovering from bubonic plague, the illness that spread through fleas across Europe in the 14th century, killing between 30 and 60 percent of the population.

Sierra Jane Downing was camping with her family in late August when she came across a dead squirrel. Her mother, Darcy, told the child to stay away from the animal but she said that as she and her other daughter, Tiara, were looking at a hollow tree, Sierra returned to the squirrel. Days later after camping, the child ran a 107 F (41.67 C) fever and had a seizure, prompting her frightened father to rush her to the local hospital that stabilized her before flying her to Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.

Dr Jennifer Snow was the pediatrician who treated Sierra and she said the child's unusual symptoms were puzzling. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Wendi Drummond said they had never before treated a patient with bubonic plague, but the symptoms clearly fit the diagnosis and there was no time to waste as Sierra's body collapsed into septic shock.

The doctors quickly administered gentamicin, an antibiotic effective against the plague, but Sierra became sicker before improving. The Center for Disease Control estimates that only a handful of Americans are infected with the bubonic plague every year.

Since it is critical to treat patients in the early stages of infection, treatment is often not delayed for laboratory confirmation. Doctors expect Sierra to make a full recovery and said she may be discharged within the week.