The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release Thursday that the 10-year-old resident of La Plata County “died of plague-related causes.”
The death comes amid “laboratory confirmed reports of animal and flea plague in six provinces,” including La Plata, where tests confirmed the presence of plague in a sample of fleas collected there. CNN reported
Plague is a bacterial disease that can be transmitted to humans through the bites of infected rodents or handling infected animals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although plague was known to cause tens of millions of deaths across Europe during the Middle Ages, plague can be effectively treated with modern antibiotics if caught early enough, according to the CDC. Few cases are reported in the United States each year.
“In Colorado, we expect to test positive for flea for plague during the summer months,” Jennifer House, deputy state epidemiologist and public health veterinarian at CDPHE, said in a statement.
“Awareness and precautions can help prevent disease in people,” House said. “While it is rare for people to get plague, we want to make sure everyone knows the symptoms. The disease can be treated if caught early.”
Symptoms include a “sudden onset of high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes,” the center said, adding that officials wanted residents to know the signs of the plague, which is “frequently detected in rock squirrels, woodlice, and other types of ground squirrels and chipmunks.”
Prairie dogs are also susceptible to infection, and one of the signs of a plague can be the sudden disappearance of an active animal above ground.
“If you notice a decrease in rodent activity in an area where you would normally see active rodents, contact your local public health agency,” CDPHE said.
Pets can also be infected, and CDHE advised residents to use flea control products.
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