By Teresa Carson
PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - An Oregon man who contracted a rare case of bubonic plague, a disease that ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages, is expected to lose his fingers and some toes, but should be well enough to leave the hospital within weeks, his family said on Wednesday.
Paul Gaylord, 59, spent almost a month in intensive care, most of it on life support after he was infected while trying to take a rodent from the mouth of his cat on June 2. The choking cat bit his hand and scratched him.
Doctors at a clinic near his home in Prineville, Oregon, about 150 miles southeast of Portland, first prescribed an antibiotic for cat scratch fever, according to his niece, Andrea Gibb.
Several days later, his condition worsening, Gaylord returned to the clinic and was rushed to a local hospital. He was then transferred to a larger hospital in nearby Bend, Oregon.
"The doctors said he wasn't going to make it," Gibb said, adding that her uncle is expected to lose all of his fingers, which have turned a black, and most of his toes. "He has had ups and downs, but he is very strong."
Gaylord, a welder, begins physical therapy Wednesday.
The plague, often spread by flea bites or through contact with a sickened animal, is believed to have killed around 25 million Europeans during the Middle Ages, when it was known as the Black Death.
Today, it is treated with antibiotics and only an average of seven cases a year are reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The cases are virtually all in the western states.
Oregon has had three cases since 1995 and none of the victims have died, according to the Crook County Health Department.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch)