Colorado Confirms Human Case Of Plague For First Time In Five Years

by : Cameron Frew on :
Colorado Confirms First Human Case OfsPlague In Five YearsShutterstock

Colorado has confirmed its first human case of plague since 2015, days after a squirrel tested positive for the disease.

An unnamed southwest resident contracted septicemic plague – a form of the disease that doesn’t spread easily – following exposure to sick squirrels earlier this year. They have since recovered.


While the state has been warned of an ‘increase of reported plague activity’, health officials are keen to urge that people should only take normal precautions, and there’s no need to panic.

Squirrel Tests Positive For Bubonic PlaguePA Images

No other human cases of plague, whether it be septicemic, bubonic or pneumonic, have been found, The Denver Post reports. Prior to 2015, there’d been 20 confirmed cases.

Dr. Jennifer House, state public health veterinarian for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, explained plague has actually been in the state since the 1940s,  and ‘cases in wild rodents in Colorado are reported most years’.


She added: ‘While we see most plague activity during the summer, the disease can be found in rodents year-round and sometimes spills over into other wildlife species as well as domestic cats and dogs.’

The health department has advised pet-owners to keep their animals from roaming or hunting rodents, as well as asking people to ‘avoid handling wildlife, especially squirrels, prairie dogs, rabbits and other rodents’. Plague is typically carried by fleas but can also be contracted via respiratory droplets.

A squirrel located in Morrison, Jefferson County, tested positive for bubonic plague earlier this month, the most common form of the disease. It was responsible for the Black Death, the deadliest pandemic in human history that killed an estimated 50 million people between 1347 and 1351. However, these days it’s easily treatable with antibiotics if caught promptly.


Plague in Colorado isn’t a fresh concern. Pictured below is a warning sign for dog-walkers in the state in 2019:

Colorado Plague Warning SignPA Images

In an earlier statement, state health officials explained: 

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals if proper precautions are not taken. Cats are highly susceptible to plague and may die if not treated promptly with antibiotics.

Cats can contract plague from flea bites, a rodent scratch/bite or ingestion of a rodent. Dogs are not as susceptible to plague; however, they may pick up and carry plague-infected rodent fleas.


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Symptoms of plague included ‘sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes, occurring within two to seven days after exposure’.

However, don’t worry; according to the CDC, there’s an average of seven plague cases every year, with a mortality rate of around 8-10%.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: News, Animals, Colorado, disease, Now, Plague, US


The Denver Post and 1 other
  1. The Denver Post

    Colorado reports first human plague case since 2015, but officials say there’s no increased risk to public

  2. Jefferson County Public Health

    Squirrel with Plague Found in Jefferson County