Home HEALTH Colorado Health Officials Confirm Rare Human Plague Case

Colorado Health Officials Confirm Rare Human Plague Case

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Health officials in Colorado are investigating a rare case of human plague discovered in Pueblo County, about 50 miles south of Colorado Springs, following preliminary test results.

The bubonic plague, caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, can be life-threatening and is typically spread through the bite of an infected flea or by handling infected animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, weakness, and one or more swollen, painful lymph nodes. The plague can be cured with antibiotics if administered quickly, so it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately if you experience these symptoms. However, a vaccine for the plague is no longer available in the U.S.

To prevent infection, health officials recommend:

  • Eliminating rodent hiding and breeding places around your home, garage, shed, or recreation area by removing brush, rock piles, trash, and lumber.
  • Avoiding contact with dead animals. If you must handle sick or dead animals, use insect repellent to protect yourself from fleas, then use a long-handled shovel to place the carcass in a garbage bag and dispose of it in an outdoor garbage can.
  • Using insect repellent containing 20%-30% DEET to prevent flea bites, and treating pants, socks, shoe tops, arms, and legs.
  • Not letting pets sleep in bed with you and treating them regularly for fleas (flea collars are not proven effective).
  • Preventing pets from hunting or roaming in rodent areas, such as prairie dog colonies.
  • Keeping pet food in rodent-proof containers.

Historically, the plague killed millions in Europe during the Middle Ages, known as “the Black Death,” but human cases are rare today. According to CDC data, the U.S. sees an average of seven human plague cases annually, primarily in northern New Mexico and Arizona. Earlier this year, a New Mexico man died after contracting the bubonic plague.