Laboratory testing has confirmed a case of plague (Yersinia pestis) associated with a recent death of a 10-year-old La Plata County resident. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) continue to investigate the case and will provide additional information as it becomes available.
“We are so sad for the loss of this young Coloradan and our deepest condolences go to the family,” said Dr. Jennifer House of CDPHE. “Public health is doing an epidemiological investigation and wants Coloradans to know that while this disease is very rare, it does occur sometimes, and to seek medical care if you have symptoms.”
“On behalf of all of us at SJBPH, our hearts go out to the family while we support the state’s thorough investigation to keep residents safe,” said Liane Jollon, Executive Director of SJBPH.
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. Most human plague cases are acquired directly from fleas; SJBPH stresses the importance of controlling the presence of wildlife and fleas around homes through the following measures:
- Wear repellant and appropriate clothing when heading outdoors.
- Keep pets up to date on vaccinations, away from wildlife, and protected from fleas (with veterinary approved topical medications, flea collars, or other methods of prevention).
- Avoid sleeping alongside your pets.
- Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially those that appear sick.
- Do not handle dead animals or animal waste.
- Children should be aware of these precautions and know to tell an adult if they have had contact with a wild animal or were bitten by fleas.
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 https://cdphe.colorado.gov/animal-related- diseases/plague or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/plague/.
San Juan Basin Public Health is a local public health agency, governed by a seven-member local Board of Health, serving all residents of Archuleta and La Plata counties. For over 70 years, San Juan Basin Public Health has improved the health and environment of Southwest Colorado.