Plague Besieges California, Colorado, and New Mexico

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A bacterial infection has been found in three states. While it is rare, black death does still occur in the U.S. every year. The plague besieges California, Colorado, and New Mexico. There have been human fatalities in Colorado and New Mexico.

In California, a child tested positive for the bacterial infection. The child diagnosed lives in Los Angeles but actually contracted the infection during a camping trip at Yosemite National Park. He was treated and has recovered.

At the national park, chipmunks and squirrels were trapped after the park found two dead squirrels. The squirrels had died from the infection. The trapped animals were combed and their fleas were tested. The fleas tested positive for the bacteria.

Two areas of the park were closed so the California Department of Public Health could treat the areas where infected fleas were found. They used a flea insecticide to dust rodent burrows. California was among three states besieged by the plague, the others were New Mexico and Colorado.

A dog in Santa Fe, New Mexico was diagnosed with the plague several days ago. According to the New Mexico Department of Health, there have been seven cases involving domestic animals and two wild animals so far in 2015. The confirmed cases involved four dogs, three cats, and two unnamed wild mammals.

As of July 27, 2015, the New Mexico Department of Health reports one human fatality due to the plague. According to an alert dated May 15, 2015, in addition to the animal plague, there were 10 cases of tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, which included seven dogs, one cat, and two rabbits infected.

According to the health department, these infections occur almost every year. Tularemia is a bacterial infection similar to the plague, they are both found in the rodent and rabbit populations, and can be transmitted to domestic animals and humans via infected fleas and ticks.

Colorado is another state which sees the infection frequently. According to a news report, Colorado has had a great amount of wet weather during the last two years. As a result, they have confirmed a record number of human cases since the beginning of 2014. Of the 12 cases, there were only two deaths, which occurred this year. One death occurred in June. A 16-year-old boy began to experience flu-like symptoms and died four days later. The other death occurred in Pueblo county in August.

Health officials in Colorado have included prairie dogs to the list of rodents which might be infected, and could transmit the disease to domestic animals or humans. In Pueblo County, an initial investigation found plague-bearing fleas in a prairie dog colony.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three types of plagues caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis).

  1. Pneumonic occurs when the lungs become infected with Y. pestis. It can be spread between people and animals by inhaling the bacteria from someone or animal who is infected. The CDC says there must be close contact, which is direct, for this type of transmission to occur. However, if a person with either a septicemic bubonic infection is untreated the Y. pestis can move into the lungs.
  2. Bubonic is the type of bacterial infection which is transmitted when a person is bitten by an infected flea. It can also occur when something contaminated with the bacteria enters via breaking the skin. This is the most common type and cannot be spread between people.
  3. Septicemic is either a complication of the two previously listed infections or independently. This type happens when the bacteria multiply in the blood. This also does not spread between people.

In order to reduce the chances of death, it is vital a person be treated by a physician. The symptoms are flu-like in bubonic plague cases. In the case of septicemic the symptoms are more severe, in addition to flu-like symptoms a person may have abdominal pains, shock, and bleeding into organs including the skin. As the name sounds, pneumonic plague causes breathing difficulty, cough, chest pain associated with pneumonia.

As the plague besieges the states of California, New Mexico, and Colorado, other western states also have occasional outbreaks. It is endemic to the Western United States. Early treatment is vital and there is no vaccine currently available for use in the U.S.

By Cathy Milne


L.A. Now: Yosemite National Park Campground to Be Closed While Officials Try to Wipe Out Plague
New Mexico Department of Health: Department of Health Reports Animal Plague and Tularemia Cases
The Denver Post: Wet Weather Blamed for Record Human Plague Cases in Colorado
CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response: Facts About Pneumonic Plague

Featured Photo Courtesy of Thomas Hawk’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Photo Courtesy of Victoria Pickering’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License