El Paso County Public Health Department announced finding a dead wild rabbit  near a prairie dog burrow in in Yoder. Testing on the animal revealed it had contracted and died from plague.

Image/Gorman Lewis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Image/Gorman Lewis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Public health workers came across the rabbit while looking into reports of possible dead prairie dogs in eastern El Paso County.

In addition, health officials say they found empty prairie dogs burrows, suggesting the animals that lived there may have died.

“Plague is cyclical and it is common for prairie dog colonies to experience high loses; 90 percent or more can die during a plague outbreak,” said Environmental Health Director Tom Gonzales.

After the confirmation of plague in the rabbit yesterday, officials went door to door to notify area residents, leaving “Public health alert” flyers to residents in the general area to raise the level of awareness and ask people to take precautions to prevent plague.

Plague is found in animals throughout the world, most commonly rats but other rodents like ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, rabbits and voles. Fleas typically serve as the vector of plague. Human cases have been linked to the domestic cats and dogs that brought infected fleas into the house.

People can also get infected through direct contact with an infected animal, through inhalation and in the case of pneumonic plague, person to person.

Yersinia pestis, the bacterial agent of plague,  is treatable with antibiotics if started early enough. There are three forms of human plague; bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic.

Colorado has reported five human plague cases thus far in 2014El Paso County’s last reported human case occurred in 1991.