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


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

  • Officials said the girl from La Plata County died this month
  • State public health officials reported 22 cases of plague between 2005 and 2020
  • The disease is spread by bacteria, often carried by fleas.
  • The disease has also been present in Colorado since the 1940s.

Colorado health officials are investigating a possible outbreak of plague following the death of a 10-year-old from the ancient disease earlier this month.

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

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

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of this young expatriate and our deepest condolences to the family,” state veterinarian Dr. Jennifer House said in a statement published by the Associated Press.

The bacterium that causes plague, Yersinia pestis, is usually carried by fleas.

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

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

What is 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 plague after being bitten by a flea that carries the plague bacteria, or after handling an animal infected with the plague.

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

It is usually treatable with available antibiotics, although medical intervention is encouraged early for the best chance of full recovery.

In Colorado, cases typically peak in the summer.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

‘Public Health is conducting an epidemiological investigation and wants Coloradans to know that the disease is very rare, it occurs infrequently, and to seek medical care if you have symptoms.

The state recorded 22 cases of plague between 2005 and 2020.

Nine cases were in La Plata County.

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

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

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

Those living in the western US, including Colorado, are most at risk, and very ill patients need ‘immediate, intensive care’.

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

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

On May 18, the DCPHE issued a statement urging residents to take precautions after a squirrel in El Paso County was found infected.

Dr. House said, ‘Plague has been present in Colorado since at least the 1940s, and the state has had the highest number of cases of wild rodents over the years.’

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

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