Colorado Sees First Human Plague Case Since 2015: Health Officials

July 17, 2020 Updated: July 17, 2020

Authorities in Colorado said this week that the first human plague case has been discovered in the state since 2015.

The infected resident was discovered in the southwestern portion of the state earlier this summer, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It added that he had contact with infected squirrels.

But the person, who was not identified, didn’t have the bubonic plague, which is associated with the Black Death pandemic that killed millions of Europeans in the Medieval period.

“The patient had septicemic plague, which is in the blood and cannot be spread to other people. The resident recovered, and no other cases were identified,” officials said, adding that the plague was “found this summer in animals in limited access areas of Adams and Broomfield counties.”

A squirrel in Colorado recently was found to have contracted the bubonic plague, and it was located about 17 miles southwest of Denver, the state’s largest city and capital.

“Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals,” state health officials said in a statement, while adding that the risk of contracting the plague is “extremely low,” they added.

People can be infected with the plague through animals or fleas that have been infected.

“Plague has been present in Colorado since at least the 1940s, and cases in wild rodents in Colorado are reported most years,” said Dr. Jennifer House, the Colorado public health veterinarian, in a news release. “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.”

To prevent getting the plague, health officials urge Colorado residents not to directly handle any wildlife, keep pets away from wildlife, especially keep pets away from dead rodents or rabbits, don’t allow pets to roam freely, treat all pets for fleas, don’t feed wildlife, and to stay aware of rodent or rabbit populations.

Symptoms of the plague can include high fever, chills, headache, and nausea, as well as other signs, occurring within a week of exposure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. However, the disease can be treated with antibiotics upon early diagnosis.