Laboratory testing has confirmed a case of plague (Yersinia pestis) associated with a recent death of an Archuleta County resident. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) are investigating the case.
“On behalf of all of us at SJBPH, our hearts go out to the family while we work with CDPHE to conduct a thorough investigation to keep residents safe,” said Tiffany Switzer, interim executive director of SJBPH. “While this disease is very rare, it is important to be aware of how you can be exposed and the symptoms it can cause. If you think you have symptoms consistent with plague, seek health care immediately and let them know you may have been exposed.”
Plague is treatable. Symptoms include the sudden onset of high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.
Plague is caused by bacteria that can be transmitted to humans by the bites of infected fleas or by direct contact with infected animals. Plague is frequently detected in rock squirrels, prairie dogs, wood rats, and other species of ground squirrels and chipmunks. SJBPH investigates prairie dog population die-offs for the presence of plague. If an active colony of prairie dogs suddenly disappears, please report this to SJBPH.
Residents should not eradicate or kill prairie dogs on their property as this increases the risk of exposure to plague-infested fleas.
SJBPH reminds residents that the risk of contracting certain animal-borne diseases, while present year-round, increases during the summer when humans and animals are frequently in close contact. Most human plague cases are acquired directly from fleas; SJBPH stresses the importance of controlling the presence of wildlife and fleas around homes through the following measures:
• Wear repellant and appropriate clothing when heading outdoors.
• Keep pets up to date on vaccinations, away from wildlife, and protected from fleas (with veterinary approved topical medications, flea collars, or other methods of prevention)
• Avoid sleeping alongside your pets.
• Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially those that appear sick.
• Do not handle dead animals or animal waste.
• Stay out of areas where wild rodents live. If you enter areas inhabited by wild rodents, wear insect repellent and tuck your pant cuffs into your socks to prevent flea bites.
• Prevent rodent infestations around your house by clearing plants and materials away from outside walls, reducing access to food items and setting traps.
• Treat known rodent sites around your home with flea powder or a suitable insecticide.
• See a physician if you become ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes. Plague is a treatable illness.
• Contact a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or an abscess (i.e. open sore) or swollen lymph nodes. Pets with plague can transmit the illness to humans.
• Children should be aware of these precautions and know to tell an adult if they have had contact with a wild animal or were bitten by fleas.
To learn more about the symptoms, treatments, and other information for plague, visit https://sjbpublichealth.org/183/Communicable-Disease. Information is also available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at https://cdphe.colorado.gov/animal-related-diseases/plague or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/plague/.