Teens death renews concerns about plague


Taylor Gaes of Larimer County, Colorado, died of the plague in June.

Officials in Larimer County, Colorado, have confirmed that a teen's death in June was caused by septicemic plague, the rarest form of infection. It is thought that Taylor Gaes, 16, was bitten by a plague-infected flea on his family's property, according to The Coloradoan. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there hasn't been a large urban outbreak in the United States since 1924-1925 in California, though the bacterium is still found in the fleas of wild rodents in the western portion of the country and there are about seven human cases are reported in the U.S. each year. Though it is uncommon, humans and pets can become infected from plague-carrying fleas.

There are three types of plague: bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic. Bubonic is the most common, causing swollen and painful lymph nodes, fever, chills, headaches and weakness. Pneumonic is the most serious, a respiratory form of the infection, and the only type that can be spread from person to person, according to the CDC. Septicemic plague is caused when the bacterium enters the bloodstream directly.

The CDC recommends wearing gloves if coming into contact with potentially infected animals, using repellent if exposed to rodent fleas while outdoors, applying flea control products to pets and reducing rodent habitat around your home, work and recreational areas.

During an outbreak of the plague in rodents, many of the rodents die, causing fleas to seek other sources of blood. People and animals that visit the areas where rodents have recently died off are at risk of being infected from flea bites. Dogs and cats can also bring plague-infected fleas into the home, the CDC says. Cats can pose a significant risk to owners, veterinarians and others who come into close contact with these animals, as they can carry pneumonic plague, which can be transmitted to humans in the form of aerosolized bacteria. There is also risk of transmission to humans directly, from bites, scratched and direct contact with infectious exudates.

Veterinarians whose clients express concern about plague and fleas should emphasize the importance of year-round flea control for all pets in the household, experts recommend.

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