Black Plague Kills Again in Colorado

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plagueThe infamous black plague has reappeared in Colorado, marking the second time this year that someone in the state has died of the historic disease.

The Pueblo City-County Health Department announced on August 5 that an unnamed adult has died of the black plague. It is believed that the individual caught the plague from fleas on a dead rodent. A dead prairie dog in the western part of the country has tested positive for the plague—the only animal in the area thus far. Officials are urging people to protect themselves and their pets from potential flea exposure.

In June of this year, a 16-year-old in northern Colorado died from what was later discovered to be the septicemic plague. It is believed that the latest case was also of the septicemic form.

The plague is spread by the Yersinia pestis bacteria and has three variations. Bubonic is the most common and is characterized by swollen and blackened lymph nodes. The septicemic form is when the bacteria enters the blood stream directly and lacks the signature swelling. The symptoms of septicemic plague are fever, chills and abdominal pain—causing it to sometimes be mistaken for the flu. The last form, pneumatic, presents pneumonia-like symptoms and is extremely rare. All three forms of the plague can be treated with antibiotics, but only if administered early enough.

The U.S. sees about seven cases of the plague (usually in its bubonic form) every year. Colorado had eight cases in 2014, four of which were traced back to a pit bull. This was the only documented case of dog-to-human transmission other than a 2008 incident in China. There has not been a known case of human-to-human transmission in the U.S. since 1924.

Yersinia pestis is most notorious for the plagues that swept across Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries, killing nearly 60% of the population. Globally, most modern cases of the plague are confined to Africa, though a small number appear in other nations annually.

Botelho, G., “Adult Dies of Plague in Colorado,” CNN web site, August 5, 2015;
Dean, J., “Man Dies of the Plague in America after ‘catching It from Dead Rodent’,” The Mirror web site. August 6, 2015’