U.P. teacher 1st in Michigan to contract plague

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Marquette — Some people go their entire lives without catching anything worse than a flu or virus.

And then there’s Alisha Plescher, 33, a teacher from Marquette.

One year after suffering a rare degenerative disease of the spine, she recently became the first Michigan resident to ever contract the bubonic plague. The two ailments are unrelated.

“I’m just ready for a normal, boring life, so ready for it,” she said Monday. “To keep getting knocked down, I mean, come on, I’m ready for a break.”

The mother of two caught the plague while hiking with her husband through mountains outside Salida, Colorado, in late August.

She apparently was bitten by an infected flea, which is the most common way the disease is transmitted, said health officials.

One other person has contracted the illness while hiking through the Salida Mountains, which are 120 miles southwest of Denver, officials said.

The U.S. normally experiences three plague cases a year but has dealt with 14 this year, including four fatalities. Health officials don’t know why the number of cases — all originating in the western part of the country — has spiked.

Three weeks after the incident, Plescher is still dealing with the repercussions.

Her fever and the swelling in her legs have gone down, but her lymph nodes remain enlarged and painful. Unable to stand because of the pain, she spends most of her time in bed or on her couch.

She hopes to return to work in several weeks in the Marquette Area Public Schools, where she is a speech pathologist and autism specialist.

There’s no chance of her disease spreading to other people, said health officials

“It’s been a rough few years,” said Plescher, who returned from Colorado on Aug. 25.

The symptoms struck right after she got home. Her lymph nodes became swollen that night and she developed a fever several hours later.

For five days, Plescher’s temperatures ranged from 103 to 105. She went to the hospital but it took two to three days to learn exactly what was wrong with her.

Doctors told her if she had waited one more day, the disease might have progressed too far to treat, she said.

“I thought it was just a flu or a virus,” Plescher said. “Who would think a fever would turn into this?”

She credited her doctor, who pinpointed the ailment after consulting with state and federal health officials.

Plescher’s second brush with a rare disease in a year is all the more ironic because she had just recovered from the first one.

In September 2014, she was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, which is the death of bone tissue due to lack of blood supply.

After a nearly yearlong recovery, she felt great and decided to go to Colorado with her husband to visit her father and grandmother just before the school year began.

“I was finally back to normal,” she said. “And then I got hit. What are the chances?”

The two hikes she took through the Salida Mountains weren’t even long ones, Plescher said. They were 3.5 miles and 4.5 miles, she said.

Health officials warn people traveling to the western U.S. that the riskiest areas are ones that provide food or shelter for rodents, like campsites, cabins and other rural spots.

People should use liberal amounts of insect repellent on their skin and clothes, said the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

They also should ensure that their pets receive regular flea treatments, said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive for the state agency.

“People who are traveling and recreating outdoors in the western U.S. should be aware of the risk,” she said.


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Twitter: @francisXdonnell