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Pueblo County resident dies of plague; 2nd plague death in Colorado in 2015

Posted at 4:10 PM, Aug 05, 2015

There’s been a second confirmed death from the plague in Colorado, and another confirmed case where a man is recovering.

A man from Pueblo County died Wednesday, according to health officials there.

And a man is recovering in Boulder County after contracting the plague. He is responding well to antibiotics and other treatment, according to Boulder County health officials.

This is the first case of the plague in Boulder County since 1993.

“He had actually found a dead chipmunk on his property and a couple days later, developed these symptoms,” said Jamie Feld, communicable disease epidemiologist for Boulder County Public Health. "So he was somehow bit by a flea."

Feld says the common cycle is for fleas to carry the plague from rodents to your pets, then from your pets to you.

“If there's a die-off of animals in your area, then you may want to be particularly aware of these symptoms - fever, muscle pains, extreme weakness," she said.

The Boulder County man who is recovering was misdiagnosed by an ER in another state, according to Feld. He returned to Colorado, where health officials correctly diagnosed him.

Feld says Colorado's unusually wet spring and summer is likely fueling this spike. Cooler, moist weather means more rodents - making it easier for disease to spread.

“Fleas can live longer in moist environments, even when they do not have a host to live on,” Feld said. “If people do receive antibiotics promptly, after being diagnosed or exposed, then they can recover."

Here are some easy things you can do to protect yourself: Wear bug repellent when outside. Wear gloves, long sleeves and use a long-handled shovel to remove dead rodents.
Common symptoms include: high fever, weakness, chills, fatigue, muscle aches and even severe confusion.

Simply touching the dead carcass of a rodent infected with the plague can also spread the disease through your skin.

In June, a 16-year-old from Larimer County died of septicemic plague which wasn't detected until after he passed away. That's a rare form of the flu that isn't easily diagnosed because it isn't accompanied by the tell-tale swelling of the glands seen in most plague cases.

It's not clear what type of plague the person in Pueblo County had.

Cases of the plague are rare and deaths are even rarer. Nationally, an average of seven human plague cases a reported each year although last year Colorado had eight on its own.

This makes for four cases of the plague in Colorado this year. The fourth person also survived. 

Plague occurs naturally in Colorado and is an infectious disease that spreads when infected fleas bite wild rodents or other small mammals such as rock squirrels, wood rats, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, prairie dogs, and rabbits. Wild carnivores can also become infected by eating other infected animals.

Plague can spread to humans when infected fleas from pets or wild rodents bite them, or when they touch dead or dying animals infected with the disease.