For the third time in two months, Colorado has reported a human plague case in a resident. Health officials with The Pueblo City-County Health Department confirmed an adult died from plague. This is the first Pueblo County resident to contract plague since 2004.
This is the second fatality due to plague this year in Colorado. On June 8, 16-year-old Poudre High School student in Larimer County, Taylor Gaes, died from septicemic plague.
In addition, last month Chaffee County health officials reported a case of bubonic plague.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the family,” stated Sylvia Proud, public health director of the Pueblo City-County Health Department.
While the investigation is still ongoing, the individual may have contracted the disease from fleas on a dead rodent or other animal. The Pueblo City-County Health Department is coordinating the investigation, working with experts from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment . “This highlights the importance to protect yourself and your pets from the exposure of fleas that carry plague,” Ms. Proud added.
Plague, caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis, is transmitted from rodent to rodent by infected fleas. Infected fleas pass plague to animals or people through bites. Plague is characterized by periodic disease outbreaks in rodent populations, some of which have a high death rate. During these outbreaks, hungry infected fleas that have lost their normal hosts seek other sources of blood, thus increasing the risk to humans and other animals frequenting the area.
There are three forms of human plague; bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic.
Bubonic plague: This is the most common form. In this form, the bacteria enter the body through the bite of an infected flea or rodent. Here the bacteria infect the lymphatic system. After a few days to week, the person will experience fever, chills, weakness, and swollen lymph glands. These are called buboes.
In the U.S., bubonic plague is sporadic, primarily in the West. Typically, there are around 10 cases annually in this country.
Untreated bubonic plague is fatal about half the time.
Septicemic plague: This form is also contracted from a flea or rodent bite. Sometimes it appears subsequent to untreated bubonic or pneumonic plague. It involves bloodstream dissemination to all areas of the body. Buboes do not occur. Symptoms are endotoxic shock and disseminated intravascular coagulation. Untreated septicemic plague is nearly always fatal.
Pneumonic plague: Probably the most serious form of plague and it’s when the bacteria infect the lungs and cause pneumonia. It is contracted when the bacteria is inhaled (primary) or develops when bubonic or septicemic plague spreads to the lungs.
Pneumonic plague is contagious and can be transmitted person to person. It is highly communicable under appropriate climate conditions, overcrowding and cool temperatures. Untreated pneumonic plague is frequently fatal.