COLORADO, USA — Plague activity has been confirmed in six counties, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE).
CDPHE said it is working with local health departments to investigate plague activity, and has confirmed its presence in animals and fleas in six counties through laboratory testing.
That includes La Plata County, where the 10-year-old died from plague-related causes earlier this month.
CDPHE said plague activity was also confirmed in the following counties:
- San Miguel County
- El Paso County
- Boulder County
- Huerfano County
- Adams County
Plague is cause by a bacteria (Yersinia pestis) that can be transmitted to humans through bites from infected fleas or contact with infected animals, CDPHE said.
Plague is often detected in the following animals:
- Rock squirrels
- Other species of ground squirrels and chipmunks
- Prairie dogs
Lack of prairie dog activity above ground and decreased rodent activity in areas where it is normal can be signs of plague activity in an area.
CDPHE advises residents to not kill prairie dogs, as it could increase the risk of transmission and spread.
>Video above from 2019: UCHealth expert talks plague after outbreak in prairie dogs in Commerce City.
Most human plague cases are contracted directly from fleas. Pets can also be infected by fleas, and CDPHE strongly recommends the use of veterinary-approved flea control products.
If detected early enough, CDPHE says plague is treatable in people and pets. Symptoms include a sudden high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.
CDPHE recommends taking the following precautions to reduce the risk of exposure:
- Avoid fleas, and keep pets on a leash and out of wild rodent habitats.
- Avoid areas where wild rodents live. If in those areas, wear insect repellant and tuck pant legs into socks.
- Avoid all contact with wild rodents, especially sick or dead animals.
- Clear plants and martials around away from the outside walls of homes, reduce access to food items and set traps.
- Consult with a professional pest control company about treatment for homes.
- Contact a veterinarian if a pet becomes sick with a high fever, open sores and/or swollen lymph nodes.
“In Colorado, we expect to have fleas test positive for plague during the summer months," said Jennifer House, deputy state epidemiologist and public health veterinarian for CDPHE. "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."
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