Human plague case reported in Grand County

Sky-Hi News staff report

Public health has reported a case of a Grand County resident with the plague.

The case reported Thursday came from exposure to a sick animal according to a release from Grand County Public Health. This is the second case of plague reported in Colorado this year.

The Grand County case is similar to the other case of human plague in Colorado, with one be transmitted by a squirrel and the other by a cat. Neither case is suspected of having spread the infection to other people or animals.

These are the first human cases reported in the state since 2015. There have been 14 cases of human plague in the last 10 years in Colorado.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment emphasized that it’s not uncommon for plague to be present this time of year, and simple precautions can keep the risk of transmission to humans very low.

“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 state public health veterinarian. “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 pets such as cats and dogs.”

People should take the following precautions to protect themselves and their pets:

  • Do not directly handle any wildlife.
  • Keep pets away from wildlife, especially dead rodents and rabbits.
  • Don’t let dogs or cats hunt prairie dogs, squirrels, voles, other rodents or rabbits.
  • Don’t allow pets to roam freely.
  • Treat all pets for fleas according to a veterinarian’s advice.
  • If your pet develops a sudden illness after contact with wildlife call a veterinarian immediately.
  • Do not feed wildlife – this attracts them to your property, brings them in close contact, and increases the risk of disease transmission.
  • Do not attempt to remove or kill prairie dogs. This may increase the risk of plague for you and your domestic animals.
  • Be aware of rodent and rabbit populations in your area, and report sudden die-offs or multiple dead animals to your local health department.

Plague is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected flea but also may be transmitted by infected animal tissues, fluids or respiratory droplets, the release explained. Infected fleas may be found near areas where multiple rodents or rabbits have died — avoiding these areas and not allowing pets or other animals to explore these areas will decrease the risk of getting plague.

Citizens with direct exposure to fleas or wildlife in the affected areas may be at risk. People who think they have been exposed should contact a health care provider immediately.

Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, chills, weakness and tender, painful lymph nodes. While there are no publically available vaccines to prevent plague in people, if caught early, it can be successfully treated with antibiotics in both people and pets.

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