Plague Case in Archuleta
An individual from Archuleta County has tested positive for plague and is currently hospitalized in Denver. This is the first confirmed case of human plague in Colorado since 2006. The last human case in Archuleta County was in 1998.
While the investigation is still ongoing, the individual is believed to have contracted the disease while recreating with family northwest of Pagosa Springs in the Cimarrona Campground near Williams Creek Reservoir in the San Juan National Forest. San Juan Basin Health is coordinating with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the National Forest Service to post warning signs in the campground and vicinity. It is common for plague to spread through rodent populations in a localized area – often resulting in mass “die-offs”. Rodent die-offs regularly occur in the southwestern United States.
In recent decades, an average of seven human plague cases are reported each year nationwide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most human cases in the United States are scattered in rural areas and occur predominantly in two regions (see map):
• Northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, and southern Colorado
• California, southern Oregon, and far western Nevada
Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease in humans. Symptoms begin two to six days after the bite of an infected flea, or contact with an infected rodent or cat. Typical symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, sudden onset of fever or chills, severe headache, extreme exhaustion, and a general feeling of illness. Bubonic plague can be successfully treated when diagnosed promptly. If you have had a possible exposure to infected rodents or fleas and are experiencing these symptoms, consult a physician as soon as possible.
Six animals (including squirrels, household cats, and prairie dogs) tested positive for plague in Colorado in 2011 and two animals have tested positive for plague so far in 2012. Cats are infected from flea bites or by direct contact with infected rodents. Plague infected cats will generally have a history of roaming freely in rural or semi-rural areas and their owners often report that they are known predators.
Infected cats frequently exhibit swelling and sores around the mouth, head, and neck, and appear to be ill. Seek veterinary care for such animals. Since domestic cats and dogs can carry infected fleas into the home environment, it is also important to consult your veterinarian for information about flea control for your pets. While dogs rarely appear sick from plague, it is still important that they are treated for fleas as they can still carry them into the home.
• Avoid contact with all sick and dead rodents and rabbits. Look for the presence of blow flies or dead animal smell as evidence of animal die-offs. Prairie dog colonies that suddenly are not active may also be due to plague activity in the area. Report such die-offs to San Juan Basin Health Department at 335-2052
• While hiking, treat pants, socks, shoe tops, arms and legs with insect repellents.
• DO NOT ever touch a dead wild animal. Do not approach or pick-up wildlife. If you see an animal that appears to be sick in southwestern Colorado, please call Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 970-247-0855.
• Keep your pets from roaming and hunting and talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product.
• Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.
• If you hunt or trap rabbits or carnivorous wild animals, such as coyotes and bobcats, protect your hands and face while skinning or handling these animals. Fresh pelts may be treated with flea powder.
• Bites from wild carnivores and from cats and dogs have caused human plague. Such animals may be infected, carry the bacteria in their mouths or may transport infective fleas.
•DO NOT feed or entice any rodent or rabbit species into your yard, back porch, or patio.
• Eliminate rodent habitat, such as piles of lumber, broken cement, trash and weeds around your home or recreational cabin.
• Make sure that houses and outbuildings are as rodent-proof as possible. Keep foundations in good repair and eliminate overhanging trees from roof and windows.
• When outdoors, minimize exposure in rodent-infested areas. Do not catch, play with, or attempt to hand feed wild rodents.
• The incubation period is two to six days. Consult a physician if sudden unexplained illness occurs within that period.
For more information on plague, visit www.cdc.gov/plague.
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