Spread unlikely after possible plague-linked death

Sep 21, 2009 By LINDSEY TANNER , AP Medical Writer

(AP) -- There's no sign of any spread after the rare, possibly plague-related death of a University of Chicago scientist, public health officials said Monday as federal authorities flew in to help investigate.

As a precaution, antibiotics have been offered to about 100 co-workers, friends and family of genetics researcher Malcolm Casadaban, who died earlier this month after lab exposure to a weakened form of the bacterium that causes plague.

The strain is federally approved for lab studies. Dr. Kenneth Alexander, a UC infectious disease specialist, likened it to a "crocodile with no teeth" and called Casadaban's death a mystery.

Casadaban's lab on the South Side campus has been sealed off while authorities investigate.

Officials have said it's unlikely anyone else would be infected, and a Chicago Department of Public Health spokesman said Monday the window for that happening was nearly over.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent three scientists to Chicago on Monday to help with the investigation.

"It is very rare for a scientist's death to be linked to a pathogen he or she was studying," said CDC spokesman Dave Daigle. He didn't have information on any cases.

Alexander said the last one he recalled was Howard Taylor Ricketts, a former University of Chicago scientist who did pioneering research on two other bacterial diseases - Rocky Mountain spotted fever and typhus. Ricketts died of typhus in 1910 while researching the organism.

Casadaban, who studied the genetics of dangerous bacteria, was interested in what made such organisms so aggressive.

He entered the University of Chicago's emergency room on Sept. 13, complaining of shortness of breath, and died later that day. Blood tests turned up signs of the Yersinia (plague) bacteria he worked with but no other obvious signs of death, university officials said.

Additional tests are being done this week, Alexander said.

"It is a little bit of a mystery as to why him," he said.

Casadaban, 60, was otherwise healthy and vigorous, Alexander said, but he may have had an undetected underlying condition that made him susceptible to the weakened germ. The most likely culprit would be an iron metabolism disorder, and tests are being done to determine that, he said.

About 10 to 15 people each year develop plague nationwide, in mostly rural areas, according to the CDC; one in seven U.S. cases is fatal. Antibiotics can effectively treat plague but without prompt treatment, it can cause severe illness and death.

Plague can infect wild rodents including rats; affected U.S. areas are mostly in western states. Humans can get the disease by handling infected animals, from fleas that bite infected animals or from other people.

According to the Chicago Department of , there has been no human-to-human transmission of plague in the United States since 1924.

Symptoms can include swollen, painful lymph nodes, fever, chills, a cough and difficulty breathing.

---

On the Net:

CDC: http://www.cdc.gov

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Philippines boosts MERS monitoring after UAE nurse scare

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Man dies from plague in China, 11 others infected

Aug 02, 2009

(AP) -- Thousands of people have been placed under quarantine in a town in northwest China after a man died of pneumonic plague and 11 others were confirmed infected with the deadly lung infection, health authorities said.

China disinfects town where plague killed 3rd man

Aug 04, 2009

(AP) -- Authorities killed rats and fleas on Tuesday as they disinfected a town sealed off after three people died of pneumonic plague in a remote farming town in northwestern China, according to the provincial health department.

Libya records 13 cases of bubonic plague

Jun 17, 2009

Thirteen cases of bubonic plague have been recorded in eastern Libya, near the border with Egypt, Health Minister Mohamad Hijazi told AFP on Wednesday, stressing the situation was under control.

Denver Zoo monkey dies of plague

May 22, 2007

A hooded capuchin monkey at the Denver Zoo has died of the plague, which officials suspect was transmitted by a squirrel.

Recommended for you

US orders farms to report pig virus infections

21 hours ago

The U.S. government is starting a new program to help monitor and possibly control the spread of a virus that has killed millions of pigs since showing up in the country last year.

Foreigner dies of MERS in Saudi

21 hours ago

A foreigner has died after she contracted MERS in the Saudi capital, the health ministry said on announced Friday, bringing the nationwide death toll to 73.

Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

Apr 18, 2014

Vietnam is scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of measles that has killed more than 100 people, mostly young children, and infected thousands more this year, the government said Friday.

New clues on tissue scarring in scleroderma

Apr 18, 2014

A discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists could lead to potential new treatments for breaking the cycle of tissue scarring in people with scleroderma.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Treating depression in Parkinson's patients

A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has found interesting new information in a study on depression and neuropsychological function in Parkinson's ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...