New case of human plague confirmed in Colorado

A case of human plague has been confirmed in Colorado, local officials say said Tuesday.

Such cases are rare, but not unheard of. A New Mexico man died of the plague in March, while Oregon officials confirmed a case in February, probably caused by an infected cat.

The Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment reports that the source of the infection in a Pueblo County resident is still under investigation. Anyone showing symptoms of the plague is advised to seek immediate medical attention.

“Typical symptoms of plague include sudden fever and chills, severe headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and feeling ill. A common symptom of plague is also swollen lymph nodes with pain,” the report said.

“Plague occurs naturally and can infect humans and their pets. People get plague through bites from infected fleas, by touching or skinning infected animals, or by inhaling droplets from the cough of an infected person or animal,” it added.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage on plague, the disease is caused by “the bacterium, Yersinia pestis.

“The plague can be cured with antibiotics, but they must be given quickly to prevent serious illness or death,” the CDC said say on the web page. “The plague is notorious for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today it is a rare but persistent cause of disease in rural areas of the western United States and certain regions of Africa and Asia.”

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there are about seven cases of plague each year in the United States. Between 1970 and 2022, a total of about 500 cases were recorded.

In their press release regarding the plague case, the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment made the following suggestions.

  • Remove areas where rodents can hide and breed around your home, garage, shed or recreation area. Remove brush, piles of rocks, rubbish and piles of wood.
  • Avoid contact with dead animals.
  • Use insect repellent with 20%-30% DEET to prevent flea bites. Treat pants, socks, shoe tops, arms and legs.
  • Do not allow pets to sleep in your bed.
  • Treat dogs and cats regularly for fleas. Flea collars are not proven effective.
  • Do not allow pets to hunt or roam in areas where rodents are present, such as prairie dog colonies.
  • Store pet food in rodent-proof containers.

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