Potential human case of plague associated with recent death under investigation in La Plata County

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    San Juan Basin Public Health

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) are investigating a potential case of plague (yersinia pestis) associated with a recent death of a La Plata County resident.

    SJBPH was notified of the potential case on July 7th and is actively working to support CDPHE, who is leading the investigation due to SJBPH’s ongoing COVID-19 response. CDPHE laboratory is conducting additional testing to confirm the diagnosis. 

    Plague is caused by bacteria that can be transmitted to humans by the bites of infected fleas or by direct contact with infected animals. Plague is frequently detected in rock squirrels, prairie dogs, wood rats, and other species of ground squirrels and chipmunks. SJBPH investigates prairie dog population die-offs for the presence of plague. If an active colony of prairie dogs suddenly disappears, please report this to SJBPH.

    SJBPH reminds residents that the risk of contracting certain animal-borne diseases, while present year-round, increases during the summer when humans and animals are frequently in close contact. SJBPH stresses the importance of controlling the presence of wildlife and fleas around homes as well as wearing repellant and appropriate clothing when heading outdoors. Additionally, pets should be kept up to date on vaccinations, and protected from fleas. Most human plague cases are acquired directly from fleas so keeping pets on flea protections will decrease risk to both pets and people. Wild animals should not be fed or handled, especially those that appear sick, nor should dead animals or animal waste be handled. It is important that children are also aware of these precautions and know to tell an adult if they have had contact with a wild animal.

    To learn more about the symptoms, treatments, and other information for plague, visit sjbpublichealth.org/communicabledisease/. Information is also available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at cdphe.colorado.gov/animal-related-diseases/plague or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/plague/.