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Bubonic plague infects Colorado squirrel, kills Mongolian teen

The squirrel is the first reported case of the plague in Jefferson County, Colorado.
The squirrel is the first reported case of the plague in Jefferson County, Colorado.(Source: National Park Service)
Published: Jul. 15, 2020 at 8:47 AM EDT
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A squirrel in metropolitan Denver has tested positive for bubonic plague, and on the other side of the world, a human died from the disease that ravaged humankind a few centuries ago.

The rodent in Colorado is the first reported case of the plague in Jefferson County, according to the county’s health agency.

Humans can get the plague through the bite of infected fleas, the cough of an infected animal or direct contact with an infected animal.

It can be effectively treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early, the health agency says.

But it can be fatal in up to 90% of people when not treated.

Symptoms of the plague may include:

  • sudden onset of high fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • nausea
  • extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes

Cases of the plague are rare in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent decades, an average of seven human plague cases have been reported each year.

Reported cases of human plague in the United States from 1970-2018.
Reported cases of human plague in the United States from 1970-2018.(Source: CDC)

Disease claims a human victim

A 15-year-old boy has died in western Mongolia of bubonic plague, China’s national news agency reported.

The Health Ministry said laboratory tests confirmed the teenager died of plague that he contracted from an infected marmot, according to the Montsame News Agency.

The case prompted the government to impose a quarantine on a portion of the province of Gobi-Altai. Montsame said 15 people who had contact with the boy were isolated.

In an unrelated case in neighboring China, a patient who was infected with plague in the northern region of Inner Mongolia is improving, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.

Xinhua said 15 people who had close contact with the patient were released from quarantine on Sunday. The agency said the government ended its top-level emergency response.

An official announcement earlier said a warning for the public in the Bayannur region of Inner Mongolia to avoid eating marmot and to report dead animals would last through the end of 2020.

From reports by Gray News and The Associated Press

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