NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A recent death in Archuleta County has been tied to the plague (Yersinia pestis), according to San Juan Basin Public Health. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is also helping to investigate the case.

“On behalf of all of us at SJBPH [San Juan Basin Public Health], our hearts go out to the family while we work with CDPHE [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment] to conduct a thorough investigation to keep residents safe,” Tiffany Switzer, the interim executive director of SJBPH, said in a press release. “While this disease is very rare, it is important to be aware of how you can be exposed and the symptoms it can cause. If you think you have symptoms consistent with plague, seek health care immediately and let them know you may have been exposed.”

Humans can get plague from bacteria transmitted by infected fleas or direct contact with infected animals. Plague is often found in squirrels, chipmunks, and prairie dogs. San Juan Basin Public Health asks residents not to kill prairie dogs, as doing so can increase the risk of exposure to plague.

Plague in humans can be treated. Symptoms include sudden, high fever and swollen lymph nodes, according to San Juan Basin Public Health, which provides these tips to stay safe:

  • Wear repellant and appropriate clothing when heading outdoors.
  • Keep pets up to date on vaccinations, away from wildlife, and protected from fleas (with veterinary approved topical medications, flea collars, or other methods of prevention)
  • Avoid sleeping alongside your pets.
  • Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially those that appear sick.
  • Do not handle dead animals or animal waste.
  • Stay out of areas where wild rodents live. If you enter areas inhabited by wild rodents, wear insect repellent and tuck your pant cuffs into your socks to prevent flea bites.
  • Prevent rodent infestations around your house by clearing plants and materials away from outside walls, reducing access to food items, and setting traps.
  • Treat known rodent sites around your home with flea powder or a suitable insecticide.
  • See a physician if you become ill with a high fever and/or swollen lymph nodes. Plague is a treatable illness.
  • Contact a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever and/or an abscess (i.e. open sore) or swollen lymph nodes. Pets with plague can transmit the illness to humans.
  • Children should be aware of these precautions and know to tell an adult if they have had contact with a wild animal or were bitten by fleas.