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Bubonic plague source identified in La Plata County

By Flannery O’Neil
Special to The SUN

San Juan Basin Health (SJBH), in coordination with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), has confirmed a case of bubonic plague in a La Plata County resident. The subsequent investigation identified plague-positive fleas from a prairie dog burrow in western La Plata County. SJBH representatives are communicating with residents in the area to encourage them to take precautions to protect themselves.

Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague in humans. Symptoms begin two to six days after the bite of an infected flea or contact with an infected rodent or cat. Symptoms typically include sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, weakness and one or more swollen, tender, and painful lymph nodes (called buboes).

Bubonic plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics when diagnosed promptly. If you have had a possible exposure to infected rodents or fleas and are experiencing these symptoms, consult a physician as soon as possible. Colorado has identified 64 cases of human plague, nine (14 percent) of which were fatal, since 1957.

One hundred and fourteen samples have been tested for plague this year at the state health lab. Two rodents and a dog have tested positive for plague in Colorado. Fourteen flea samples have also tested positive for plague. Since domestic cats and dogs can carry infected fleas into the home, it is important to consult your veterinarian for information about effective flea control for your pets.

Tips to protect yourself and your family from getting plague:

  • Do not touch or approach wild animals.
  • Wear gloves if you must handle sick or dead animals.
  • Do not let pets sleep in the bed with you. This has been shown to increase your risk of getting plague.
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET or permethrin (for use on clothing) to prevent flea bites. Be sure to follow the label directions for use.
  • Eliminate rodent habitat, such as piles of lumber, broken cement, trash and weeds around your home or recreational cabin. Make sure that houses and outbuildings are rodent-proof.

Learn more

To learn more about plague, visit www.cdc.gov/plague.

This story was posted on August 21, 2014.