The Pueblo City-County Health Department announced additional fleas have tested positive for plague in Pueblo County; the fleas were captured during an investigation of a prairie dog die off near the Beulah Highway (Hwy 78) and Water Barrel Road. This adds to Turkey Creek and Hatchet Ranch areas of Pueblo County where fleas have also tested positive for plague.

This image depicts a magnified view of an oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis. Image/CDC
This image depicts a magnified view of an oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis. Image/CDC

“Fleas were collected from an area with a recent prairie dog die off near Hwy 78 and Water Barrel Road tested positive for plague,” announced Sylvia Proud, public health director at the Pueblo CityCounty Health Department.

“This new positive plague identification is confirmed in rural western Pueblo County,” explained Ms. Proud. She added, “It is important to protect yourself by staying out of rural areas where rodents may be. If you are in an area where wildlife such as prairie dogs live, wear insect repellant containing DEET and treat your pets for fleas.” Plague has not been confirmed in Pueblo West Metropolitan District or the City of Pueblo at this time.

Plague, caused by bacteria 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.

People infected with plague usually show symptoms 2 to 6 days after coming in contact with plague. Symptoms include fever, chills, weakness, and swollen and painful lymph nodes. A few people get pneumonia (infection of the lungs) as a first symptom of plague. The infection then spreads to other parts of the body. Plague can be treated with antibiotics when caught in time. If this disease is not treated immediately, many people who get sick will not survive. Contact your medical provider if you do not feel well.

Cats can be infected from flea bites or by direct contact with infected rodents. Plague infected cats will generally have a history of roaming freely in rural or semi-rural areas and their owners often report that they are known predators.

Infected cats frequently exhibit swelling and sores around the mouth, head, and neck, and appear to be ill. Seek veterinary care for such animals. Since domestic cats and dogs can carry infected fleas into the home environment, it is also important to consult your veterinarian for information about flea control for your pets. While dogs rarely appear sick from plague, it is still important they are treated for fleas as they can still carry them into the home.