A young girl in Colorado is recovering from a bout with the bubonic plague, the same disease that killed off one-third of Europe during the 14th Century.
Sierra Jane Downing's parents thought their 7-year-old daughter only had the flu after the family returned home from a camping trip. That was until she had a seizure and, after being rushed to the hospital, recorded a 107-degree-fever, according to the Associated Press.
The disease hadn't been confirmed in Colorado since 2006, but federal health officials say there have been recorded cases in both New Mexico and Oregon, none of them fatal. Three in the span of one year isn't out of the ordinary, and much of the media coverage stems from the bubonic plague's significance in human history.
Still, officials warn people to be careful to avoid direct contact with infected animals like rodents and rabbits. Pets can also be infected easily. The plague -- then deemed the Black Death -- swept Europe in 1347 after originating in China and spreading by ship to Italy and then to the rest of Europe. It's generally accepted that rats were the main vector of the disease.
About 25 million people are known to have perished over the six decades the bubonic plague ravaged Europe.
The rarity of the disease worked against Sierra Downing. Doctors were baffled when she showed up in the emergency room before a pediatric infectious disease specialist, Dr. Wendi Drummond, recommended giving Sierra a specific antibiotic to fight the symptoms. Dr. Jennifer Snow recognized the maladies from an online medical journal.
Darcy Downing suspected that her daughter may have contracted the disease from insects near a dead squirrel the girl saw when the family was camping in southern Colorado. Darcy Downing said she told Sienna to stay away from the squirrel and later saw bug bites around the girl's waist where her sweatshirt had previously been tied.
Downing said she saw the sweatshirt on the ground not far from the decomposing squirrel.
"If she stayed home, she could've easily died within 24 to 48 hours from the shock of infection," Snow said.
Earlier this year, the Daily Mail reported a man had almost died after catching the plague from a stray cat his family adopted. Paul Gaylord, 59, was in the intensive care unit for a month and saw his hands blacken after antibiotics didn't work.
Along with high fever, the bubonic plague also causes bleeding from the ears, muscle cramps, seizures, gangrene, and blackening skin, according to EMEDTV.com.