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Case of human ‘bubonic’ plague confirmed by Colorado health officials

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Health officials in Colorado are investigating a human case of the bubonic plague confirmed in a person in Pueblo County.

The Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release that the infection — which occurred in Pueblo County, in the southern part of the state — was first reported Friday based on preliminary test results, while the source of the infection is still being tracked down. Alicia Solis, program manager of the Office of Communicable Disease and Emergency Preparedness at the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a news release announcing the case: “Plague can be treated successfully with antibiotics, but an infected person must be treated promptly to avoid serious complications or death. We advise all individuals to protect themselves and their pets from plague.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, and is described as an infectious disease typically spread by fleas. Once known as “The Black Death” (which killed millions in Europee, the Middle East and northern Africa during the Middle Ages), the plague circulates naturally among wild rodents – and in rare cases infects humans and their pets. The last urban plague epidemic in the United States occurred in Los Angeles from 1924 through 1925, but since then the plague has occurred only as scattered cases in rural areas.  Per the CDC, most human cases in the United States have occurred in outbreaks in California, New Mexico, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma.  In the United States as a whole, an average of seven human plague cases are reported each year.

The CDC noted that “a plague vaccine is no longer available in the United States .. New plague vaccines are in development, but are not expected to be commercially available in the immediate future.” They added that typical symptoms include sudden fever and chills, severe headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and, commonly, swollen lymph nodes with pain, and urged that anyone who develops symptoms of plague should see their doctor immediately.

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