The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has confirmed plague (Yersinia pestis) in animals and fleas from six counties after the death of a 10-year-old boy in LaPlata County. Plague is a zoonotic disease, which means it can pass from animals to humans. The Yersinia pestis bacteria is usually found in fleas and small mammals such as prairie dogs, squirrels, woodrats, and chipmunks. Pets can also carry plague-infested fleas.
Plague cases are rare in humans and can be treated if caught early, so it is vital to know the symptoms and seek treatment if plague is suspected. Plague symptoms depend on the clinical form: bubonic, pneumonic, or septicemic (https://www.cdc.gov/plague/symptoms/index.html).
Bubonic – sudden fever, headache, chills, weakness, and swollen tender lymph nodes
Septicemic – fever, chills, extreme weakness, abdominal pain, shock, and possibly bleeding into the skin and other organs; skin and other tissues (e.g., fingers, toes, nose, etc.) may turn black and die
Pneumonic – fever, headache, weakness, and rapidly developing pneumonia with shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, and sometimes bloody or watery mucous
Animal-borne diseases can be contracted year-round but tend to increase in summer when people are more likely to come into contact with animals. The CDPHE recommends Coloradans take the following precautions (https://cdphe.colorado.gov/press-release/plague-activity-identified-in-colorado):
Coloradans should take steps to avoid coming in contact with fleas and small mammals that often carry Yersinia pestis. Know the symptoms of the plague and seek medical attention if they appear. For more information, consult the CDPHE or the CDC.
A PDF of this Techncial Update is available here.
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