Monday, July 15, 2024

Infected fleas bring a human case of the plague to Colorado, health officials say

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A human case of the plague has appeared in Colorado in Pueblo County, according to preliminary test results. This is the first case in Colorado since a child from La Plata County died in 2021.

Plague is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria, which is spread through fleas carried by infected rodents. People can get it from a flea bite. Plague can be treated with antibiotics if it’s caught early, but that doesn’t always happen because the illness is so rare and initial symptoms, like fever and body aches, mimic those of the flu.

Fatal human plague
Photomicrograph of Giemsa stained lung tissue from a patient with fatal human plague, revealing pneumonia, and an abundance of Y. pestis organisms.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Getty Images

The Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment is encouraging everyone to take a few steps to keep people and their pets safe

  • Get rid of places where rodents can hide by removing brush, rock piles, trash and piles of lumber.
  • Protect yourself with insect repellent that contains 20% to 30% DEET.
  • Avoid contact with dead animals.
  • Treat cats and dogs for fleas regularly.
  • Don’t let pets roam in rodent-dense areas, like a prairie dog colony.

Plague in the U.S. mostly occurs sporadically in rural areas, with southern Colorado being a hot spot.

If you develop symptoms of plague, see a health care provider immediately.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment mapped out cases among humans and animals from 2005 through 2021 identifying hotspots: 

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