Plague Confirmed In Death Of Durango Child

State health officials have confirmed that plague was responsible for the death of a Durango-area child. 

The 10-year-old girl was a member of a local 4H group, the Weaselskin 4H Club, confirmed one of the club’s leaders, Mike Latham. The club and the girl’s family declined to comment further.

A statement released Friday evening from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment said the investigation of the case to determine how and when the girl contracted plague is continuing.

“We are so sad for the loss of this young Coloradan and our deepest condolences go to the family,” said Dr. Jennifer House of CDPHE. “Public health is doing an epidemiological investigation and wants Coloradans to know that while this disease is very rare, it does occur sometimes, and to seek medical care if you have symptoms.”

This is the first human plague death in the state in six years. While exceedingly rare, when infections and deaths do occur, they disproportionately occur in La Plata County, home to Durango. Residents of La Plata County made up almost half of Colorado’s plague cases between 2005-2020, according to CDPHE.

San Juan Basin Public Health Director Liane Jollon said her agency is working with the state to be sure there is no greater threat to residents of La Plata or elsewhere in southwest Colorado.

“On behalf of all of us at SJBPH, our hearts go out to the family while we support the state’s thorough investigation to keep residents safe,” Jollon said in a statement.

The plague is caused by a bacterium, Yersinia pestis, and is usually transmitted to humans through an infected animal or a rodent flea bite, according to the CDC. While it killed millions of people in the Middle Ages, today it’s treatable with antibiotics. Health officials warn people not to interact with wild animals or with dead animals that could be carrying fleas that carry plague.

The Durango Herald reported that the girl died on Monday. CDPHE confirmed Friday afternoon that they were notified of the death by Mercy Regional Medical Center, a Centura Hospital, on Wednesday afternoon.