Adult dies of plague in Colorado

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Purple-colored Yersinia pestis bacteria, the bacteria that causes the plague, seen on the spines of a flea. (Credit: National Institute of Allergy And Infectious Diseases)

PUEBLO, Colo. — Centuries after ravaging millions, the plague has come to modern-day Colorado — leaving a devastated family behind, after their loved one succumbed to the disease.

The Pueblo City-County Health Department announced Wednesday that an adult had died from the plague, a disease that has a long and sordid history, albeit not one typically associated with modern times or developed countries like the United States.

The health department didn’t detail who died, beyond that it was an adult.

The agency said in a press release that “the individual may have contracted the disease from fleas on a dead rodent or animal.” It’s the first such case of someone in Pueblo County contracting the plague since 2004.

“This highlights the importance to protect yourself and your pets from the exposure of fleas that carry plague,” said Sylvia Proud, the city-county public health director.

A dead prairie dog in the western part of Pueblo County is the only animal, thus far, confirmed to have the plague in the immediate area.

The county isn’t the only part of Colorado afflicted with the plague recently.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found, in a report released April 30, that a pit bull was at the heart of a plague outbreak that sickened four people last year.

That report was especially significant in that it suggested that there might have been a human-to-human transmission. That hasn’t happened in the United States since 1924.

The dog-to-human transmission was unexpected, according to Colorado’s Tri-County Health Department. The team that investigated the case said they could only find one other case of dog to human transmission in the medical literature. That was a 2009 case in China.

The CDC says on average about eight people get the plague every year in the United States. While it can be life-threatening, with modern medicine like antibiotics and antimicrobials it is usually not deadly, as it was in the Middle Ages when millions died.