September 16, 2015
2 min read

Plague cases reported in California, Colorado

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A California child contracted a rare case of unspecified plague while visiting Yosemite National Park, likely from the fleas of a dead rodent or animal, state health officials reported.

Additionally, the first case of plague in Pueblo County, Colorado, since 2004 has died after contracting the infection, according to the Pueblo City-County Health Department.

“Human cases of plague are rare, with the last reported human infection in California occurring in 2006,” Karen Smith, MD, MPH, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a press release. “Although this is a rare disease, people should protect themselves from infection by avoiding any contact with wild rodents. Never feed squirrels, chipmunks, or other rodents in picnic or campground areas, and never touch sick or dead rodents. Protect your pets from fleas and keep them away from wild animals.”

The child from Los Angeles was hospitalized after camping at the park’s Crane Flat Campground and visiting Stanislaus National Forest in July. No other members of the child’s camping group have been hospitalized or reported symptoms related to plague. The child is recovering, while the family is being monitored by health officials.

To protect visitors at Yosemite, officials have added caution signs at the campground and said:

  • never feed squirrels, chipmunks or other rodents and never touch sick or dead rodents;
  • avoid walking, hiking or camping near rodent burrows;
  • wear long pants tucked into socks or boot tops to reduce exposure to fleas;
  • spray insect repellent containing DEET on socks and pant cuffs to reduce exposure to fleas; and
  • keep wild rodents out of homes, trailers, and outbuildings and away from pets.

In July, a man died of plague in Pueblo County, Colorado. The source of transmission remains under investigation, although the adult patient “may have contracted the disease from fleas on a dead rodent or other animal,” according to a press release. Testing of a dead prairie dog earlier in the year confirmed the disease’s presence on the western edge of the county.

Karen Smith

“This highlights the importance to protect yourself and your pets from the exposure of fleas that carry plague,” Sylvia Proud, MS, public health director of the Pueblo City-County Health Department, said in the release. “Residents are encouraged to call and report any unusual die-off of rabbits or prairie dogs to the Pueblo City-County Health Department ... and stay away from the die-off area.”

This death follows that of a teenager from the state’s Larimer County during late June. The teenager’s transmission of septicemic plague was likely from the fleas of a dead rodent or animal on his family’s rural property, according to a press release.

“We just need to be aware that plague is in Colorado — we do have positive animals every single year,” Jennifer House, MPH, state public health veterinarian for the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, said during a June press conference. “[Plague] is caused by bacteria so it is treatable with specific antibiotics, but treatment has to begin very early in the course of the symptoms and quite often the symptoms are so nonspecific that it is very hard for individuals to know they have it.”

According to the CDC, an average of seven human plague cases are reported annually in the United States. – by Dave Costill and Dave Muoio

Disclosure: Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.