Child dies of plague in Colorado; officials warn of diseased animals in multiple counties

Health officials in Colorado urged residents Thursday to be wary of local wildlife after laboratory reports confirmed the presence of plague in animals and fleas from six counties.
The warning comes after a 10-year-old resident recently died of complications from the disease, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The state's last plague-related death was in 2015, reports the Denver Post.
"We are so sad about the loss of this young Coloradan and our deepest condolences go to the family," said Dr. Health Department's Jennifer House on the child's death in early July. "The public health service is conducting an epidemiological investigation and wants Coloradans to know that this disease, while very rare, occurs occasionally and that they seek medical help if they experience symptoms."
Plague is a widespread disease that spreads to a wide variety of animals, including rodents, flies, and humans. The disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, a bacterium found around the world. There are three forms of plague: bumps, septicemic, and pneumonic.
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Colorado health officials said an increase in the plague was expected this time of year and would not be a cause for great concern if the right precautions were taken. Two human plague cases have been reported in Colorado in the past five years, according to state health data.
"In Colorado, we expect fleas to test positive for plague during the summer months," House, who serves as assistant epidemiologist and public health veterinarian for CDPHE, said in the press release. “Awareness and precautionary measures can help prevent the disease in people. Although it is rare for people to contract the plague, we want to make sure everyone is aware of the symptoms. "
Although the plague can be a serious disease if left untreated, its severity can be reduced if symptoms are detected early, infectious disease expert Leonard Krilov previously told USA TODAY. Symptoms often include fever, headache, chills, and swollen lymph nodes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Humans can contract plague from the bite of infected fleas or from direct contact with infected animals; Pets can also become infected through contact with infected fleas, the press release said.
More: Colorado squirrel tests positive for bubonic plague, health officials say
While animal-borne diseases like the plague are present year-round, the risk of transmission increases in the summer months, when people and animals are more likely to be in close contact, the press release said. The continued incidence of the plague in animals makes it difficult to eradicate the incidence of the disease in the human population, said Pritish Tosh, an infectious disease doctor and researcher at Mayo Clinic, USA TODAY.
"If there's zoonosis or it comes from animals, there is a reservoir that will exist unless you get rid of that reservoir," Tosh said, which would require the elimination of all animals that carry the disease.
The CDPHE said "most human plague cases are acquired directly from fleas". People can reduce their risk of contracting the plague by following the ministry's advice on "controlling the presence of wildlife and fleas in [their] homes".
Pet owners can protect themselves and their animals by keeping their pets on leashes outdoors and staying away from wild rodents. To avoid luring wild rodents into the house, residents should remove house plants and food from the outside walls of the house. For a full list of tips, see the CDPHE press release.
Featuring: Mary Bowerman, Matthew Brown, and Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Colorado Plague: Child Death Reported; diseased animals found
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