The Plague Was Found (Again) Outside Colorado Springs. That’s Normal

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A squirrel snacks on a taco in Denver’s Swansea-Elyria neighborhood on Friday, April 23, 2021.

Plague, the disease that swept through most of Europe in the 14th century, has been discovered by health officials in several Colorado Springs squirrels and one domestic pet. 

That may sound like a cause for concern, but don’t worry. Experts say it’s a common recurrence in Colorado. 

“We want to alert people to the fact that wild rodents and other small mammals in this area may be infected with plague, which is more common during cooler summers after wet winters,” said El Paso County health official Haley Zachary. “By taking simple preventive measures, residents can help protect themselves and their pets.” 

Animals, like the ever-present prairie dog and squirrel, can be infected with plague after being bitten by fleas. Humans can contract the disease if they are bitten by the same fleas or have direct contact with an infected mammal. 

Cats and dogs can also carry plague and transmit it to their owners. El Paso County Health advises pet owners to prevent possible infection by keeping houses or backyards rodent-proof and keeping dogs leashed on trails and camping grounds. Insecticide powders or shampoos can be used on pets to disinfect them after spending time in areas where plague might be present. 

The incubation period for plague is usually two to six days. Common symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, a sudden fever, nausea and vomiting. 

Plague was discovered in the United States in the 1900’s, at the height of the last worldwide outbreak. According to El Paso County Public Health, San Miguel County registered Colorado’s first recorded case of the disease in 1941. The Centers for Disease Control says southern Colorado is one of the country’s main hotspots for plague.