Plague activity present in Colorado, take precautions to prevent exposure

Colorado Department of Public
Health and Environment

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment CDPHE is reporting the second case of human plague in the state this summer. The case, reported to the department on Sept. 3, is a resident from a rural county in Colorado. 

The first case was diagnosed earlier this summer in a resident from southwest Colorado. The cases are unrelated. Both cases had exposure to sick animals — a squirrel and a cat. Neither case is suspected of having spread the infection to other people or animals. These are the first cases of human plague reported in the state since 2015. In the past 10 years, there have been 14 cases of human plague in Colorado.

Earlier this year, plague bacteria were confirmed in rodents in Broomfield, Jefferson and Adams counties, as well as a cat in Elbert County. 

The CDPHE reminds residents that it’s not uncommon for plague to be seen this time of year, but it can also be found in rodents year-round. It sometimes spills over into other wildlife species as well as domestic cats and dogs.

People should take the following precautions to protect themselves and their pets:

• 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, squirrels, voles, other rodents or rabbits.

• Don’t allow pets to roam freely.

• Treat all pets for fleas according to a veterinarian’s advice.

• If your pet develops a sudden illness after contact with wildlife, call a veterinarian immediately.

• Do not feed wildlife — this attracts them to your property, brings them in close contact,and increases the risk of disease transmission.

• Do not attempt to remove or kill prairie dogs. This may increase the risk of plague for you and your domestic animals. 

• 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 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. Infected fleas may be found near areas where multiple rodents or rabbits have died — avoiding these areas and not allowing pets or other animals to explore these areas will decrease the risk of getting plague. 

Citizens 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.

For more information about plague, visit the CDPHE’s plague Web page at www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/plague.

This story was posted on September 12, 2020.