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10-year-old dies from confirmed plague case

(David Zalubowski | AP)
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 5:51 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Plague reports confirmed in animals and fleas from six counties in Colo., including San Miguel, El Paso, Boulder, Huerfano, La Plata, and Adams.

In La Plata County, a 10-year-old resident died from causes associated with plague. Laboratory testing has been conducted to confirm the presence of plague in a flea sample collected in the county.

According to the CDC website, “Plague is a disease that affects humans and other mammals. It is caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis. Humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment wants to spread awareness of plague and help residents take precaution.

One way to detect plague is to pay attention to the surrounding wildlife. According to the CDPHE, “Plague is frequently detected in rock squirrels, woodrats, and other species of ground squirrels and chipmunks. Prairie dogs are very susceptible to plague. Since they are active above ground, if they suddenly disappear, they serve as a visible alert that plague may be present.”

The CDPHE advises residents to not kill the prairie dogs on their property, because it could increase the risk of transmission of plague.

Residents should notify their local public health agency if there is decreased rodent activity in an area where there is normally active rodents.

If plague is detected early, it is treatable in both humans and pets. Symptoms include the sudden on-set of a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.

Deputy State Epidemiologist and Public Health Veterinarian for CDPHE, Jennifer House says, “In Colorado, we expect to have fleas test positive for plague during the summer months. Awareness and precautions can help prevent the disease in people. While it’s rare for people to contract plague, we want to make sure everyone knows the symptoms. The disease is treatable if caught early. Let a medical provider know if you think you have symptoms of plague or if you think you’ve been exposed.”

The risk of contracting certain animal-borne diseases is present year-round, but it increases during the summer when humans and animals are frequently in close contact.

Because the majority of plague cases reported in humans originate from fleas, humans should work to control and limit presence of wildlife and fleas around their homes.

The CDPHE lists steps residents can follow to decrease the risk of exposure to plague, including:

  • Avoid fleas. Protect pets with a veterinary approved flea treatment and keep them on a leash and out of wild rodent habitats.
  • Stay out of areas where wild rodents live. If you enter areas inhabited by wild rodents, wear insect repellent and tuck your pant cuffs into your socks to prevent flea bites.
  • Avoid all contact with wild rodents, including squirrels. Do not feed or handle them.
  • Do not touch sick or dead animals.
  • Prevent rodent infestations around your house by clearing plants and materials away from outside walls, reducing access to food items, and setting traps.
  • Consult with a professional pest control company to treat the area around your home for fleas.
  • Contact a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or an abscess (i.e. open sore) or swollen lymph nodes. Pets with plague can transmit the illness to humans.
  • Children should be aware of these precautions and know to tell an adult if they have had contact with a wild animal or were bitten by fleas.

For more information on the plague, visit the CDPHE website at https://cdphe.colorado.gov/animal-related-diseases/plague.

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