A 10-year-old Colorado child’s death has been linked to plague, and subsequent testing detected the presence of plague in insects in six counties in the state, officials said.
The child died in LaPlata County “from causes associated with plague,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a recent statement.
The child was a girl named Kinley Mitchell who died on July 5, The Durango Herald reported. She was a fourth-grader who raised hogs in 4-H, a network of youth organizations.
Laboratory testing of samples of fleas later confirmed plague in the county, as well as five others.
Plague is a disease that affects humans and other mammals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its typical cause is a bacterium, Yersinia pestis. Humans usually get the plague after getting bitten by a rodent flea carrying the plague bacterium, or by handling an animal that is infected with plague.
Bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic are the most common forms of plague. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, skin turning black, and rapidly developing pneumonia.
“In Colorado, we expect to have fleas test positive for plague during the summer months. Awareness and precautions can help prevent the disease in people. While it’s rare for people to contract plague, we want to make sure everyone knows the symptoms. The disease is treatable if caught early. Let a medical provider know if you think you have symptoms of plague or if you think you’ve been exposed,” said Jennifer House, deputy state epidemiologist, in a statement.
Antibiotics are an effective treatment but people who are not treated promptly face severe illness or death.
Prevention methods include avoiding fleas, staying away from areas where wild rodents live, and not touching sick or dead animals.
Few cases of plague appear in the United States; only a single non-fatal one was recorded in 2019, though 16 were found in 2015, causing four deaths. That’s down from dozens of cases in most years in the early 1900s, and during the mid-1980s.