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Archuleta County resident dies from plague

Health department offers tips for avoiding disease
Prairie dogs can have fleas and carry the bacteria that causes plague. A resident of Archuleta County died recently after contracting the plague. (Associated Press file)

A recent death in Archuleta County is being attributed to a case of plague, according to San Juan Basin Public Health.

The health department did not release any information about the Archuleta County resident who died or the circumstances involved. SJBPH learned of the plague confirmation on Friday.

“On behalf of all of us at SJBPH, our hearts go out to the family while we work with CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) to conduct a thorough investigation to keep residents safe,” said Tiffany Switzer, interim executive director of SJBPH, in a news release Monday.

Plague can be transmitted to humans through bites from infected fleas or by direct contact with infected animals, according to SJBPH. Animals that carry the bacteria can include rock squirrels, prairie dogs, wood rats and other species of ground squirrels and chipmunks.

The risk of contracting animal-borne diseases is highest during the summer when humans and animals are more likely to be in close contact. Most human plague cases are acquired directly from fleas.

The health department monitors prairie dog die-offs for the presence of plague. Residents are asked to report any sudden disappearances of prairie dog colonies. Likewise, residents are advised not to eradicate or kill prairie dogs, because doing so increases the risk of exposure to plague-infested fleas.

Common symptoms of plague include sudden onset of high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes. The disease is treated using antibiotics.

“While this disease is very rare, it is important to be aware of how you can be exposed and the symptoms it can cause,” Switzer said. “If you think you have symptoms consistent with plague, seek health care immediately and let them know you may have been exposed.”

SJBPH recommends the following measures to help prevent plague transmission:

  • Wear repellent and appropriate clothing when heading outdoors.
  • Keep pets up to date on vaccinations, away from wildlife and protected from fleas (with veterinary-approved topical medications, flea collars or other methods of prevention).
  • Don’t sleep alongside pets.
  • Don’t feed or handle wild animals, especially those that appear sick.
  • Don’t handle dead animals or animal waste.
  • Stay out of areas where wild rodents live. If people must enter areas inhabited by wild rodents, they should wear insect repellent and tuck their pant cuffs into their socks to prevent flea bites.
  • Prevent rodent infestations around the house by clearing plants and materials away from outside walls, reducing access to food items and setting traps.
  • Treat known rodent sites around the home with flea powder or a suitable insecticide.

If residents become ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes and believe they have been exposed to plague, they should see a physician. Similarly, if a pet becomes ill with high fever and/or has an open sore or swollen lymph nodes, residents should take precautions and contact a veterinarian.

Parents should educate children about taking precautions around wild animals and advise them to let an adult know if they have had any contact with wild animals or were bitten by fleas.


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