Public Health Emerging Issues

July 27, 2021

Plague Activity in Colorado: Protect Yourself and Know the Symptoms

  • Plague is an illness carried by fleas that live on rodents such as mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and prairie dogs. Their fleas can jump onto domestic animals and pets, infecting those animals or carrying fleas into homes.
  • Most human plague cases result from the bites of infected fleas. Less commonly, people are infected by direct contact with fluids or tissues from infected rodents or other animals (alive or dead), including domestic animals and pets.
  • Plague has been confirmed in six colorado Counties (not including Mesa) this year and the state recorded its first human death since 2015.

Avoid Illness by Taking Precautions

  • Avoid handling dead animals. 
  • Stay out of areas where wild rodents live. If you enter areas inhabited by wild rodents, wear insect repellent and protective clothing to prevent flea bites.
  • Avoid feeding rodents; keep food, pet food, and bird feed in rodent-proof containers. 
  • Keep your pets out of rodent burrows or from playing with dead animals. This
    includes keeping cats from hunting potentially sick rodents. 
  • Talk to your veterinarian about flea control for your pets, and monitor for signs and symptoms of plague (fever or an abscess (i.e. open sore) or swollen lymph nodes), in your animals. 
  • Sudden and large die-offs of rodents could indicate plague activity. If you see such activity, please notify Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) at 970-248-6900.

Know the Symptoms

  • Symptoms of plague in people include sudden onset of high fever, muscle pain, an overall feeling of tiredness, nausea, and vomiting.
    • Individuals with the bubonic form of plague will develop a large, swollen, painful lymph node, called a bubo, in the area of the flea bite. If the patient is not promptly treated with antibiotics, the plague bacteria can enter the bloodstream (septicemic plague) or lungs (pneumonic plague), causing severe, life-threatening complications.

If you believe you’ve come in contact with an animal that may be carrying plague or another infectious disease, please contact your medical provider.