Colorado had logged its first death from plague since 2015—and the victim was just 10 years old. A statement issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the child, who "died from causes associated with plague," was from LaPlata County, where testing subsequently confirmed the presence of plague in a sample of fleas. Another five unnamed counties have also had animals and fleas test positive for plague, which the Denver Post reports is usually transmitted by flea bites, including to animals like prairie dogs, squirrels, and chipmunks. Of the 22 human cases the state has registered since 2015, nearly half were in LaPlata County. That plague is present is unsurprising.
"In Colorado, we expect to have fleas test positive for plague during the summer months," says Jennifer House with the CDPHE, who notes the disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. The statement notes that prairie dogs are particularly "susceptible" to plague, and can act as a sort of canary in a coal mine: "If they suddenly disappear, they serve as a visible alert that plague may be present. If you notice decreased rodent activity in an area where you normally see active rodents, contact your local public health agency." The department also cautions against residents trying to rid their property of prairie dogs, as that could potentially cause any infected fleas to search out a new host. (Read more plague stories.)