Don't freak out: the risk of contracting plague is minimal, and it's treatable with antibiotics.
On August 8, First Creek at DEN Open Space closed temporarily due to plague-affected prairie dog colonies in the area. Three deceased prairie dogs in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (RMANWR) were found to have died from the disease, causing a series of closures in the area.
"This action follows confirmation that deceased RMANWR prairie dogs contained the bacterium responsible for sylvatic plague in prairie dogs (also known as bubonic, pneumonic, or septicemic plague when the disease infects people). The temporary closure is being implemented out of an abundance of caution to ensure visitor health and safety," says a statement by Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR).
Other areas that have been closed to the public include the RMANWR, the Prairie Gateway Open Space, and fields surrounding Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Fans who have attended recent soccer matches have been greeted with signs that warn them of the plague.
Plague is known to be present in Colorado and is an infectious disease caused by the Yersinia Pestis bacterium. That bacteria can be transmitted to humans by rodents and their fleas (or animals that carry the fleas into your home). It's important to note that the risk of plague is minimal, and even if you happen to contract it, it can be easily treated with antibiotics.
To help mitigate the issue, prairie dog holes in the affected areas and beyond are being treated with insecticide to stop disease-carrying fleas dead in their tracks. You can learn more about the process from this RMANWR Facebook post from August 2017.
"DPR staff will continue monitoring prairie dog colonies for signs of plague, and ensure conditions are protective of human and wildlife health," says DPR.
If you have concerns or live in the area, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Denver Parks and Recreation offers the following safety tips:
- Stay out of areas that prairie dogs inhabit.
- Avoid all contact with prairie dogs and other wild rodents.
- Do not feed or play with prairie dogs.
- Do not touch sick or dead animals.
- Avoid fleas: Protect pets with flea powder, and keep pets on a leash.
- Do not allow pets to be free-roaming in areas with wildlife confirmed with plague. Animals that roam freely are more likely to come in contact with plague-infected animals or fleas and could bring them into homes. If your pet becomes sick, seek care from a veterinarian as soon as possible. Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free in endemic areas to sleep on your bed.
- Use repellent if you think you could be exposed to rodent fleas during activities such as walking, camping, hiking, or working outdoors. Products containing DEET can be applied to the skin, as well as clothing, and products containing permethrin can be applied to clothing (always follow instructions on the label).
- See a physician if you become ill within one week of your visit to the area. Plague is a treatable illness.
Sound off with your thoughts in the comments below.