A dog that was being treated at Colorado State University (CSU) was diagnosed with plague and euthanized Friday. The CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital notified faculty, staff, and students Monday.

Local media reports this was the seventh case of plague in a domestic animal in Colorado this year.

Bipolar staining of a plague smear prepared from lymph aspirated from an adenopathic lymph node, or bubo, of a plague patient./CDC
Bipolar staining of a plague smear prepared from lymph aspirated from an adenopathic lymph node, or bubo, of a plague patient./CDC

Officials say they have taken all of the steps to directly notify anyone who may have been exposed to the bacteria, either directly at the hospital, or who had animals that were also patients at the time the infected dog was hospitalized.

For those who were in contact with the infected dog, early detection of infections with this bacteria are very treatable with an antibiotic. Those who are at risk have been provided with information about how to monitor for symptoms.

A limited number of people were exposed, but as a precaution, anyone with concerns about exposure should consult with their medical care provider. If you have not received a direct contact from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, you or your pet were not identified as being at risk for potential exposure.

This was a complex case because some of the dog’s symptoms were atypical for plague. As soon as tests confirmed late Friday that the dog was infected with the bacteria that causes plague, the hospital took immediate steps to notify people who may have been exposed. Those steps were:

  • We immediately identified and directly notified students, staff and faculty who were potentially exposed to the dog. We provided specific information about the case and proactive next steps these individuals should take.
  • We immediately identified and then directly notified the owners of 59 animals (48 dogs, 10 cats and a rabbit) at the hospital that were potentially exposed via sharing space with the infected dog. We provided information about proactive next steps and best practices, which include giving these pets an antibiotic, and are providing that medication for free to these clients.
  • We cleaned and disinfected the treatment areas where the dog was receiving care, following best practices recommended by experts at CSU and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
  • We notified the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Larimer County Department of Public Health, and other regulatory agencies, and began collaborating on a response, following public health best practices and recommendations.
  • Before the test confirmed the infection, the dog had been placed on a drug that would treat this infection, and would greatly reduce exposure to others after the first 48 hours. After the infection was confirmed, veterinarians began treating all other pets who had been in close proximity to the infected dog that were at the VTH.

Facts about Yersinia pestis and plague:

  • This bacteria is commonly found in rodents in Colorado, including the Fort Collins area.
  • Plague is an extremely rare diagnosis in a dog.
  • The timeframe for showing symptoms of illness after exposure are up to seven days, but can occur in a much shorter time frame, such as two or three days.
  • The bacteria most commonly spreads via a bite from an infected flea. Less commonly, it can spread through direct contact with body fluids or tissue from an infected person or animal, or by breathing in infected droplets from the cough of an infected person, generally limited to those with close contact.
  • Plague is most common in the area during the warm months of May to September. Freezing temperatures often greatly diminish the spread.
  • Public health officials have advised that the chance of infection is limited to those with direct contact with the infected animal. They recommend as a precaution that all of those potentially exposed consult with their medical care provider to discuss monitoring for fever and other signs of infection, and potential prophylactic antibiotic treatment.

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