Girl, 10, dies from the plague as cases confirmed in six Colorado counties


Girl, 10, dies from the plague as 22 cases are confirmed in six Colorado counties

  • The La Plata County girl died this month, authorities said
  • Public health officials reported 22 cases of the plague between 2005 and 2020
  • The disease is spread by bacteria, often carried by fleas
  • It has been present in Colorado since the 1940s
  • In 2015, four people died from the disease, including two from Colorado 

Colorado health authorities are investigating a possible outbreak of the plague after a 10-year-old died from the ancient disease earlier this month for the first time since 2015.

The plague, a disease caused by bacteria most often spread by fleas, has been confirmed in six different counties, according to lab results from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The deceased child lived in La Plata County in southwestern Colorado.

‘We are so sad for the loss of this young Coloradan and our deepest condolences go to the family,’ said state veterinarian Dr. Jennifer House in a statement published by the Associated Press.

The bacteria that causes the plague, Yersinia pestis, is usually carried by fleas

The bacteria that causes the plague, Yersinia pestis, is usually carried by fleas

Colorado's La Plata County logged nine cases of the plague between 2005 and 2020

Colorado’s La Plata County logged nine cases of the plague between 2005 and 2020

What is the plague and how do you get it?

The plague, infamous for killing millions in Europe during the Middle Ages, is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. 

Humans usually get the plague after being bitten by a flea carrying the plague bacterium, or by handling an animal infected with plague. 

The most common symptom is the rapid development of a swollen and painful lymph gland called a bubo, though flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, chills, weakness are also common

It is treatable with commonly available antibiotics, though medical intervention is encouraged early for the best chance at a full recovery.

In Colorado, cases usually shoot up in the summer.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

‘Public Health is doing an epidemiological investigation and wants Coloradans to know that while this disease is very rare, it does occur sometimes, and to seek medical care if you have symptoms.’ 

The state reported 22 cases of the plague between 2005 to 2020.

Nine of them were in La Plata County. 

In 2015, four people died of the plague nationwide, including two from Colorado: an adult in Pueblo County and a teenager in Larimer County, according to Colorado Public Radio.

Antibiotics are highly effective against the disease, but they should be administered within 24 hours of the first symptoms because infection can cause ‘serious illness or death,’ according to Denver Public Health.

Most symptoms are very similar to those of the flu: fever, chills, headache, weakness and cough.

Infection often leads to tender or swollen lymph nodes and discoloration of the skin.

Those living in the western US, including Colorado, are most at risk of catching it, and very sick patients require ‘immediate, intensive care.’

From 2005 to 2021, 568 animals tested positive for the plague in Colorado, including 104 cats and dogs. 

State health officials did not release a list of the six counties where the disease was most recently found, according to the Denver Post.

The plague was first introduced to the US in 1900 by rat–infested steamships, mostly from Asia.

The US averages about 7 cases of the plague per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The last urban plague epidemic was in Los Angeles from 1924 to 1925.

On May 18, DCPHE released a statement urging residents to take precaution after a squirrel was found to be infected in El Paso County.

‘Plague has been present in Colorado since at least the 1940s, and cases in wild rodents in the state are reported most years,’ Dr. House said.

‘While we see most plague activity during the summer, the disease can be found in rodents year-round and sometimes spills over into other wildlife species as well as domestic cats and dogs.’

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Written by bourbiza

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