An Archuleta County resident is currently being hospitalized in a Denver pediatric ICU for a case of septicemic plague.
According to a San Juan Basin Health Department (SJBHD) news release Tuesday, 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; however, the investigation is in progress.
Health officials say this is the first confirmed case of human plague in Colorado since 2006. The last human case in Archuleta County was in 1998.
According to a posting on ProMED mail by a Pagosa Springs Medical Center physician, the case is described as follows:
A 7-year-old girl, a resident of Archuleta County, CO, presented to a small community emergency room (ER) with a fever of 107 F and seizures on the evening of 24 Aug 2012. She was transported to a pediatric ICU in Denver, where she deteriorated into severe septic shock. Further history revealed that she was playing with a dead skunk near her home some days before the onset of fever, and that she received multiple flea bites from fleas on the skunk carcass. Blood cultures have confirmed Yersinia pestis and clinically she has septicemic plague. She remains in critical condition.
San Juan Basin health authorities report although there has not been a human case of plague in six years, 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.
Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis. It is found in animals throughout the world, most commonly rats but other rodents like ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, rabbits and voles. Fleas typically serve as the vector of plague. Human cases have been linked to the domestic cats and dogs that brought infected fleas into the house.
People can also get infected through direct contact with an infected animal, through inhalation and in the case of pneumonic plague, person to person.
Yersinia pestis is treatable with antibiotics if started early enough.
There are three forms of human plague; bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic.
• Bubonic plague
This is the most common form. In this form, the bacteria enter the body through the bite of an infected flea or rodent. Here the bacteria infect the lymphatic system. After a few days to week, the person will experience fever, chills, weakness, and swollen lymph glands. These are called buboes.
In the U.S., bubonic plague is sporadic, primarily in the West. Typically, there are around 10 cases annually in this country.
Untreated bubonic plague is fatal about half the time.
• Septicemic plague
This form is also contracted from a flea or rodent bite. Sometimes it appears subsequent to untreated bubonic or pneumonic plague. It involves bloodstream dissemination to all areas of the body. Buboes do not occur. Symptoms are endotoxic shock and disseminated intravascular coagulation. Untreated septicemic plague is nearly always fatal.
• Pneumonic plague
Probably the most serious form of plague and it’s when the bacteria infect the lungs and cause pneumonia. It is contracted when the bacteria is inhaled (primary) or develops when bubonic or septicemic plague spreads to the lungs.
Pneumonic plague is contagious and can be transmitted person to person. It is highly communicable under appropriate climate conditions, overcrowding and cool temperatures. Untreated pneumonic plague is frequently fatal.
The SJBHD advises the public to take the following precautions to prevent contracting plague:
• 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 infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page
See related news at Outbreak News