Health officials diagnosed the first plague incident of 2017 after discovering a prairie dog die-off in Broomfield.
The Bubonic Plague. Scientific name: Yersinia pestis. A
lso known as the Black Death
, the Blue Sickness
, and Le Pest
. The name bubonic comes from the Latin word bubo
, meaning swelling, growth, or pustule. And last Friday, Colorado health officials have identified the first plague incident of 2017.
The Bubonic Plague began in Central Asia in 1338 and spread to China and India by 1346. Rats and mice stowaways carrying infected fleas reached Europe the following year. When the dust settled, the disease had killed 75-200 million people in Europe. Historians estimate that 30-60 percent of the continent’s population succumbed to "The Great Mortality".
The World Health Organization estimates that 1,000 to 3,000 people worldwide come down with the plague every year. Thanks to the advent of antibiotics, the mortality rate for the Plague has dropped to 11 percent.
Rodents and the fleas they carry, spread the disease during the Black Death. Today in Colorado, it is carried primarily by flea-ridden prairie dogs.
Contrary to the comic above, prairie dog plague is not
cute. Every year, a handful of Coloradans contract the disease. The state’s first plague incident was recorded this month in Broomfield.
Last week, Broomfield Public Health Officials stated
that a prairie dog colony in the Great Western Reservoir Open Space is pointing to the Plague. This is nothing new, back in 2009 the 735 acres surrounding the Great Western Reservoir was closed due to plague infested rodents. In recent years, hundreds of prairie dogs have been relocated to the open space to make room for development projects.
“Plague is commonly transmitted from infected fleas and the public should take precautions to reduce the risk of exposure,” said Broomfield Public Health Director Jason Vahling said in a statement. “It is important to avoid touching any sick or dead animals and taking safety measures to protect your family and pets.”
As medieval as it sounds, plague is natural in Colorado. Prairie dogs, being so plentiful in rural parts of the state, are the ideal carrier for the illness. In the decade spanning 2005-2015, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) reports 20 human plague cases. However, 60 percent of the cases in the past decade came in 2014 and 2015 alone.
In 2014, a minor outbreak occurred in Eastern Colorado when a 2-year-old pit bull contracted the disease from prairie dogs and had to be put down. Unfortunately, the owner of the pit bull, a friend of the owner and two staff members at the veterinary clinic also came down with the illness. The Tri-County Health Department, serving Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties, administered antibiotics to 88 people to make sure the plague incident did not spread any further.
In 2015, a Pueblo County man died from the plague. Health investigators later discovered dead and infected prairie dogs nearby his home.
There wasn't a human Colorado plague incident in 2016. However, the CDPHE did record six positive specimens in Weld, Arapahoe, Douglas, and Saguache Counties.
While some counties do precautionary testing on prairie dog colonies, most infections only get noticed when the dogs start to die off. Prairie dogs die within 78 hours of contracting the disease, and by that time, it is hard to know who could have come into contact with one of the rodents previously.
To avoid contracting the plague, health officials recommend you take certain precautions, especially if you live or frequent rural areas with high prairie dog populations.
NEVER touch a sick or dead animal. Do not let your dog go anywhere near a dead animal.
Do not feed wild rabbits or rodents.
When outside, use a bug repellant that contains DEET.
Tuck your pants into your socks to help prevent fleabites.
Get your dog or cat preventative flea treatments.
Keep dogs on a leash and under direct supervision outside. Consider keeping your cat indoors.
Immediately contact your veterinarian if your pet becomes sick.
Refrain from letting trash pile up outside of your home to stop rodent infestations.
The disease's incubation period is two to six days. If you become sick with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes, contact your doctor and seek immediate medical attention.
Coloradans are urged to contact Animal Control if they witness any unusual wild animal activity. What do you think about prairie dog-related plague?