Plague victim, 7, in stable condition

Pagosa Springs girl being treated at Denver hospital

A 7-year-old girl from Pagosa Springs is the first confirmed case of bubonic plague in Colorado since 2006.

Sierra Jane Downing is in stable condition in the pediatric care unit at HealthONE’s Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver.

Dr. Wendi Drummond, an infectious disease specialist at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s, said in a news release Friday that the girl has bubonic plague. It is not pneumonic plague, which is a more severe and highly contagious infection of the lungs.

Sierra Jane was flown to the hospital Aug. 25 and was admitted immediately.

“We treat a fair number of children who present with septic shock, so we are accustomed to seeing very ill children,” Drummond said. “In this particular case, there were some very unusual features in her presentation and history, which led me to suspect something more rare and serious.”

The parents, Darcy and Sean Downing, asked that their privacy be respected for the next few days. They said they will release a condition update on Monday.

It is the first confirmed case of bubonic plague in Colorado since 2006 and the first in Archuleta County since 1998.

Officials believe Sierra Jane contracted plague during a family outing in Cimarrona Campground northwest of Pagosa Springs.

Symptoms of bubonic plague in humans begin two to six days after a bite from an infected flea, rodent or cat.

Typical symptoms are swollen lymph nodes, sudden fever or chills, severe headache and extreme exhaustion.

If diagnosed promptly, bubonic plague can be treated successfully.

In recent decades, the average number of cases of bubonic plague annually nationwide is seven, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Most human cases of plague occur in rural areas in two regions – southern Colorado, northern Arizona and northern New Mexico; and California, southern Oregon and western Nevada.

San Juan Basin Health Department officials urge people to be cautious when hiking, never to touch dead animals and to control their pets.

Among recommendations:

Treat pants, shoes, arms and legs with insect repellent when hiking.

Don’t feed or entice rabbits or rodents into yard or patio.

Eliminate rodent habitat such as wood piles, broken cement and trash around a house or summer cabin.

Consult a physician if sudden, unexplained illness occurs within the incubation period.

Keep pets from roaming and hunting. Consult a veterinarian about flea-control substances.

Report prairie dog die-off to the health department at (970) 335-2052.

People with questions about bubonic plague can call the San Juan Basin Health Department at 335-2087 or consult the CDC at

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