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7-Year-Old Bubonic Plague Victim Recovering

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Sierra Jane Downing (credit: CBS)

Sierra Jane Downing (credit: CBS)

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DENVER (CBS4)- Most doctors have never seen anything like it- the bubonic plague. A seven-year-old girl is recovering after contracting Colorado’s first case of the plague in six years.

Sierra Jane Downing was moved out of the intensive care unit Monday where she was deathly ill with seizures and a fever reaching 107 degrees.

Her parents did not know what was making her sick.

“We thought she had a flu,” said Sierra’s mother, Darcy Downing.

On Wednesday, Sierra faced the cameras while sitting in a wheelchair and clutching a teddy bear.

Her parents were nearby and hugged the medical team that helped save her life.

“Really a greater infection has occurred and it’s love,” said Darcy.

She was airlifted to the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver on Aug. 25.

Sierra’s father, Sean Downing, said he was terrified for his daughter, “I thought she died. I was just running for the ER.”

At first, doctors were not sure what was making Sierra sick. Then her parents pointed out some bug bites around her torso.

Pediatric Intensivist Dr. Jennifer Snow conducted some research and found a similar case.

“That was my ‘Aha’ moment. Could this be ursinia or bubonic plague,” said Snow.

Officials believe she contracted the plague during a family outing at a campground northwest of Pagosa Springs.

Sierra had wanted to bury a dead squirrel. Her parents didn’t let her touch the animal but she may have come too close.

“Her little pink sweatshirt was on the ground nearby and what we think happened is I had her tie it around her waist as the family was leaving and we found some flea bites around her torso,” said Darcy.

Doctors believe the infected fleas infected Sierra with the plague. They immediately put her on the right antibiotic to treat the illness.

“If she would have stayed at home she could have easily died within 24 to 48 hours,” said Snow.

Sierra is expected to make a full recovery.

Plague is generally transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas but also can be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, rabbits and pets. It can be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms of the bubonic form of the plague in humans include fever, chills, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck areas. Pneumonic plague, which is an infection of the lungs, can include severe cough, difficulty breathing and bloody sputum.

The bubonic plague wiped out at least one-third of Europe in the 14th century. Today, it can be easily treated with antibiotics.

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