Health officials in Colorado confirmed the death of a Pueblo County resident because of the plague, marking the second such victim to succumb to the disease in the state this year.

Medical officer Christine Nevin-Woods of the Pueblo City-County Health Department said that the unidentified adult likely died from a rare septicemic form of the illness.

Officials believe that the disease was likely passed on to the victim through bites of infected fleas. They have now collected specimens of fleas and dead animals in the area which will then be tested for plague infection.

This is the first confirmed case of plague infection in Pueblo County since 2004.

Earlier in June, a 16-year-old athlete from northern Colorado died of the plague. The infection was only detected after the victim had already passed away.

Since around 80 percent of plague infections are transmitted to people through flea bites, experts are looking at the increase in flea population in the area due to favorable weather conditions as a cause for concern.

Environmental health program manager Vicky Carlton said that the wet conditions observed in Pueblo County during the winter and spring seasons, as well as the unusually cool summer climate have caused an explosion in populations of rabbits and rodents in the area.

Carlton explained that in her own area alone, she gets to see a large number of rodents, which means that the number of fleas has doubled as well. This poses a threat to people and pets alike.

Fleas often contract the plague through feeding on infected animals, such as prairie dogs and other rodents.

Once infected by the disease, victims develop symptoms such as chills, high fevers and inflammation of lymph nodes. Patients should be treated immediately as the infection can become life-threatening.

Health experts urge people to see the doctor as soon as possible if they suddenly become ill even when there is no apparent reason.

Nevin-Woods said that while the plague is a relatively rare disease, any person can become exposed to it.

She said that the disease can be contracted in agriculture areas, such as farms on prairies, when pet cats or dogs come into contact with prairie dogs carrying infected fleas. These fleas can then transmit the plague to the owners of the pets.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about seven reported cases of humans infected by the plague in the United States. Most of these plague cases occur in rural areas, such as in northern Arizona, northern New Mexico, Southern Colorado, far western Nevada, southern Oregon and California.

Photo: Kat Masback | Flickr 

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