CASPER, Wyo. — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has confirmed the presence of plague in animals and fleas in six counties, the Denver Post reported on Thursday.
Health officials confirmed that the death of a 10-year-old Durango-area girl was the result of the plague, Colorado Public Radio reported on July 9.
The Denver Post said on Thursday that the health department did not provide a list of all six counties where the plague has been confirmed, but said that La Plata is one of the counties.
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After a squirrel tested positive for plague in El Paso County spring 2021, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a May 18 press release that the disease has been present in Colorado since at least the 1940s.
“Plague has been present in Colorado since at least the 1940s, and cases in wild rodents in the state 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.”
Two human plague infections were reported in Colorado in 2020, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Both had been exposed to sick animals and both survived. There were 22 cases of plague in humans in Colorado from 2015-2020.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says that people should take the following precautions to protect themselves and pets from the plague:
- 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 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,” the health department says. “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. Some patients may also have tender, painful lymph nodes. While there are no publicly available vaccines to prevent plague in people, if caught early, both people and pets can be successfully treated with antibiotics.”