Plague activity has been reported near the Great Western Reservoir Open Space related to a prairie dog die off, according to Broomfield Public Health and Environment Friday.  This is the first incident of plague activity seen in Broomfield this season. The open space and nearby residential homes have been posted with signs listing precautionary measures to avoid exposure to fleas potentially infected with plague.

Prairie dog burrow
Prairie dogs
Image/Singer Ron, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Plague occurs naturally in Colorado and is an infectious bacterial disease spread by fleas when they bite wild rodents and other small mammals such as squirrels, rats, prairie dogs and rabbits. Plague can also spread to humans when an infected flea bites a human. As this is the first plague activity found this season in Broomfield County, public health officials want to remind residents to protect themselves and their pets against plague.

“Plague is commonly transmitted from infected fleas and the public should take precautions to reduce the risk of exposure,” says Jason Vahling, public health director.  “It is important to avoid touching any sick or dead animals and taking safety measures to protect your family and pets.”

Plague is easily treated in humans with antibiotics when recognized early. Typically one to six days after being infected with plague, people will become ill with the following symptoms: sudden onset of high fever, muscle pain, extreme fatigue, and painful swollen lymph nodes. If you observe these symptoms in a person or pet, it is important to contact your health care provider or veterinarian immediately.

Public health officials recommend the following precautions to reduce the likelihood of being exposed to plague:

  • Avoid contact with any sick or dead wild animals.
  • Use insect repellant that contains DEET to prevent flea bites.
  • Tuck pant cuffs into socks to prevent flea bites.
  • Protect your pets by using preventive flea treatments.
  • Keep your dogs under direct supervision and on a leash when outside.
  • Contact your veterinarian if your pet becomes ill.
  • Prevent rodent infestations around your house by clearing away debris and trash.
  • Seek medical attention if you become ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes.