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First human case of plague since 2015 reported in Colorado

The person was infected with septicemic plague earlier this summer and has since recovered, according to state health officials.
Credit: KUSA

DENVER — For the first time in five years, a person in Colorado was infected with the plague, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE).

The agency said the person, whom they did not identify, was infected with septicemic plague earlier this summer and has since recovered.

This type of plague is in the blood and cannot be spread to other people. The agency also said the person had contact with sick squirrels.

RELATED: Squirrel with plague found in Morrison

Just recently a squirrel tested positive for plague in Jefferson County and CDPHE is reminding residents that it’s not uncommon for plague to be present this time of year. The risk of transmission to humans is very low, according to CDPHE, as long as some simple precautions are taken.

They include the following:

  • Do not directly handle any wildlife
  • Keep pets away from wildlife, especially dead rodents and rabbits
  • Don’t let dogs or cats hunt prairie dogs, other rodents, or rabbits
  • Don’t allow pets to roam freely
  • Treat all pets for fleas according to a veterinarian's advice
  • Do not feed wildlife – this attracts them to your property, brings them in close contact, and increases the risk of disease transmission.
  • Be aware of rodent and rabbit populations in your area, and report sudden die-offs or multiple dead animals to your local health department.

“Plague has been present in Colorado since at least the 1940s, and cases in wild rodents in Colorado are reported most years,” said Dr. Jennifer House, state public health veterinarian.

“While we see most plague activity during the summer, the disease can be found in rodents year-round and sometimes spills over into other wildlife species as well as domestic cats and dogs.”

Plague has been found this summer in animals in limited access areas of Adams and Broomfield counties.

RELATED: Plague activity confirmed at open space in Broomfield

Plague is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected flea but also may be transmitted by infected animal tissues, fluids or respiratory droplets. People with direct exposure to fleas or wildlife in the affected areas may be at risk. 

People who think they have been exposed should contact a health care provider immediately. Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, chills, weakness, and tender, painful lymph nodes.

While there are no publicly available vaccines to prevent plague in people, if caught early, it can be successfully treated with antibiotics in both people and pets.

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