Human Case of Bubonic Plague Confirmed in Colorado: What You Need to Know – NBC Bay Area

Colorado health officials are investigating a human case of bubonic plague identified in a person in Pueblo County, the state Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release.

The case was first reported on Friday and preliminary test results indicated the presence of the bacteria.

Although the plague is best known for the Black Death, an outbreak that killed millions of people in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa during the Middle Ages, the bacteria circulates naturally among wild rodents and in rare cases infects humans and their pets, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The last urban plague epidemic in the United States occurred in Los Angeles from 1924 to 1925. Since then, the plague has spread to rural areas. Most human cases in the United States have occurred in outbreaks in California, New Mexico, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma.

People get the plague through bites from infected fleas, by touching or skinning infected animals, or by inhaling droplets from the cough of an infected person or animal.

Here’s what you need to know about the bubonic plague:

What is the plague?

Plague is an infectious disease that can affect mammals. It is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is transmitted by rodents and fleas. According to the CDC, sunlight and dehydration can kill the plague bacteria on surfaces. People and pets suspected of having plague are typically treated with antibiotics and sometimes other medical measures.

Plague symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways. Bubonic plague, the type that Colorado residents contract, occurs when the plague bacteria enter the lymph nodes. It can cause fever, headache, weakness, and painful, swollen lymph nodes. It usually occurs through the bite of an infected flea, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of septicemic plague occur when the bacteria enter the bloodstream. It can occur initially or after bubonic plague is left untreated. This form of plague causes the same fever, chills, and weakness, as well as abdominal pain, shock, and sometimes other symptoms such as bleeding into the skin and black fingers, toes, or nose. According to the CDC, this form is transmitted through flea bites or by touching an infected animal.

Pneumonic plague is the most serious form of the disease and occurs when the bacteria enter the lungs. Pneumonic plague adds rapidly developing pneumonia to the list of plague symptoms. It is the only form of plague that can be spread from person to person by inhaling infectious droplets.

According to the CDC, all forms of plague can be treated with common antibiotics, and people who seek treatment early have a greater chance of full recovery.

Am I at risk for the plague?

In the US, an average of 7 cases of human plague are reported each year, according to the CDC, and about 80% of those are the bubonic form of the disease. Most of those cases have occurred in the rural western and southwestern US

A welder in central Oregon contracted it in 2012 after pulling a rodent from his choking cat’s mouth in 2012 — he survived but lost his fingertips and toes to the disease. A Colorado teenager died from a fatal case while hunting in 2015, and authorities in Colorado confirmed at least two cases last year — one of them fatal.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, most cases of plague among humans in recent decades have occurred in rural towns and villages in Africa, particularly Madagascar and Congo.

People can reduce their risk of getting plague by making their homes and outdoor areas less attractive to rodents by removing brush and litter piles and keeping pet food out of reach. Ground squirrels, chipmunks, and wood rats can transmit plague, as can other rodents, so people with bird and squirrel feeders may want to consider the risks if they live in areas where plague is occurring.

According to the CDC, an insect repellent containing DEET can also help protect people from rodent fleas while camping or working outdoors.

Flea control products can help prevent fleas from infesting pets. If a pet becomes ill, it should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible, the CDC says.

Doesn’t the plague originally come from the Middle Ages?

The Black Death of the 14th century was perhaps the most infamous plague epidemic, killing up to half the population as it spread through Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. It began to devastate communities in the Middle East and Europe between 1347 and 1351, and significant outbreaks continued for about the next 400 years.

An earlier major plague epidemic, the so-called Justinian Plague, began in Rome around 541 and raged for the next few hundred years.

The third major plague pandemic began in the Yunnan region of China in the mid-1800s and spread via trade routes, arriving in Hong Kong and Bombay about 40 years later. The pandemic eventually reached every continent except Antarctica, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and is estimated to have killed about 12 million people in China and India alone.

In the late 1800s, an effective antiserum treatment was developed. This treatment was replaced a few decades later by even more effective antibiotics.

According to the World Health Organization, plague is still a serious disease, but antibiotics and supportive therapy are effective for even the most dangerous lung disease, provided patients are treated early.

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