LA PLATA COUNTY, Colo. – A 10-year-old Colorado girl died earlier this month after contracting the bubonic plague, marking the state’s first such death since 2015.
The Denver Post confirmed the child’s plague-linked death on Thursday, noting the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has detected the bacterial infections in mammals and fleas across six counties.
The lone human fatality to date occurred in La Plata County, while health officials confirmed positive bubonic plague tests among mammals and fleas in San Miguel, El Paso, Boulder, Huerfano and Adams counties, KDVRreported.
According to a health department news release, plague is typically transmitted via the bites of infected fleas or through direct contact with infected animals. In turn, all Colorado residents are being asked to avoid prairie dogs, squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents known to carry infected fleas.
Of the 22 non-fatal bubonic plague cases confirmed statewide between 2015 and 2020, nearly half were reported in La Plata County, while Adams, Archuleta, Boulder, Denver, Grand, Larimer, Mesa and Pueblo counties each reported at least one case, the Post reported.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients infected by bubonic plague typically experience a sudden onset of fever, headache, chills and weakness and “one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes,” known as buboes. The bacteria then multiply in the lymph node closest to where the bacteria entered the body and can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.
Although the bubonic plague has a high fatality rate when left untreated, antibiotics have proved extremely effective in treating the infections, especially when detected in the early stages, the Post reported.
“In Colorado, we expect to have fleas test positive for plague during the summer months. Awareness and precautions can help prevent the disease in people,” Jennifer House, deputy state epidemiologist and public health veterinarian, stated in a news release.