Log In

Reset Password

Colorado Department of Public Health urges caution after plague case in Montezuma County

Humans can contract the plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, when bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying this pathogen, or by handling an infected animal. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
It is thought the plague was contracted on private property

After a case of plague was reported in Montezuma County on June 26, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urged residents to exercise increased caution around areas that could be high risk for infected fleas or animals.

The department said that “the person likely was exposed on public property, so there’s no specific area that hikers and campers should avoid at this point.” Montezuma County Public Health Nurse Julie Jacobsen said that the investigation into the exact cause was still active.

Since 2005 to 2021, the Denver Post reported that there have been 72 cases of plague and 11 resulting deaths in the state. According to a data map on colorado.gov, plague cases in Montezuma County have mainly come from domestic animals and rodents.

At first, Jacobsen warns that plague symptoms can be hard to catch because they’re similar to that of flu or a severe cold. One thing that sets plague symptoms apart, however, is the hard, swollen lymph nodes that come with the disease. Symptoms escalate quickly, and there’s only a small window where antibiotics will work, so Jacobsen said early diagnosis is key.

Symptoms include high fever, aches and pains and swollen lymph nodes. In pets, plague symptoms include high fever, swollen lymph nodes or an open sore. In either of these cases, it is important to see a doctor or veterinarian as soon as possible, especially if you suspect you’ve been bitten by a bug or have been in an area with rodents.

Plague risk increases over the summer, so the department advises that people use bug spray when going out. When hiking or in areas where rodents may be present, it suggests tucking your pants into your socks.

Other advice given was to avoid touching or feeding wild animals and notifying the public health department of dead rodents.

It also advised against killing prairie dogs, as killing them during the summer can increase the risk of transmission.

Jacobsen also emphasized the importance of making sure pets are treated with flea and tick medication to prevent the spread from pet to human.

“Make sure that your environment is clean, and you don’t have any piles of wood or debris where these rats or prairie dogs can be. If you do notice that there are dead animals, please notify us so we can rule it in or out or if we need to investigate,” she said.

For updates and more information about the plague, visit the Montezuma County website https://montezumacounty.org/public-notices/.

This article was republished on June 30 to report that the case of plague was not bubonic plague.