Health officials in Colorado confirm a rare case of human plague

The bubonic plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis and can be life-threatening to humans if it is not treated promptly with antibiotics.
Posted at 3:59 PM, Jul 08, 2024

Health department officials in Colorado said they are investigating a rare human plague case.

The case was discovered in Pueblo County, located about 50 miles south of Colorado Springs, following preliminary test results, the health department said.

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

Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, weakness and one or more swollen, painful lymph nodes, health officials said.

Plague can be cured with antibiotics if they are administered quickly, the CDC said, so it’s important to seek medical attention immediately if you have the aforementioned symptoms.

A vaccine for the plague is no longer available in the U.S.

Health officials offered the following tips for prevention:

  • Eliminate places rodents can hide and breed around your home, garage, shed or recreation area. Remove brush, rock piles, trash and piles of lumber.
  • Avoid contact with dead animals. If you must handle sick or dead animals follow these guidelines: First, put on an insect repellent to protect yourself from fleas. Then use a long-handled shovel to place the carcass in a garbage bag. Lastly, place the bag in an outdoor garbage can.
  • Use insect repellent that contains 20%-30% DEET to prevent flea bites. Treat pants, socks, shoe tops, arms and legs.
  • Do not let pets sleep in bed with you.
  • Treat dogs and cats for fleas regularly. Flea collars have not been proven effective.
  • Do not allow pets to hunt or roam in rodent areas, such as prairie dog colonies.
  • Keep pet food in rodent-proof containers.

Plague was known for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages when it was also referred to as “the black death,” but human cases are rare today, the CDC said.
According to data from the CDC, there's an average of seven human plague cases in the U.S. each year, with most occurring in northern New Mexico and Arizona.

Earlier this year, officials said a New Mexico man died after contracting the bubonic plague.

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