Plague Confirmed in Southwest Weld County Prairie Dog Colony

Published on August 15, 2019

Prairie dog colony

Weld County — Plague can spread through rodent and rabbit populations in a localized area, often resulting in mass animal “die-offs,” as was the case earlier this week at a prairie dog colony in rural southwest Weld County. The risk of public exposure is low due to the colony being located on private property, however, Colorado is seeing increased activity this year.

Plague is a serious bacterial disease that is spread to humans and other mammals by infected fleas. Prairie dogs are particularly sensitive to plague so infected fleas can very quickly eliminate a prairie dog colony. “The sudden absence of prairie dogs where there once was an active colony could be a warning sign,” said Mark E. Wallace, MD, MPH, Executive Director of Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment. “Residents should protect themselves by keeping fleas off pets and using an insect repellent when working, playing, or camping in areas where fleas may be present.”

Symptoms of plague include sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. A person may get swollen, painful lymph nodes near the flea bite. Plague is easily treatable with common antibiotics. The earlier a person seeks medical care and receives treatment, the better the chances for a full recovery. If plague goes untreated, severe disease and even death may occur.

Tips to prevent plague:

  • Avoid contact with all sick and dead rodents and rabbits. Look for the presence of blow flies or dead animal smell as evidence of animal die-offs. Prairie dog colonies that suddenly are not active may also be due to plague activity in the area.
  • While doing outdoor activities, treat pants, socks, shoe tops, arms, and legs with insect repellents.
  • Keep your pets from roaming and hunting, and talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product.
  • Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.
  • Do NOT feed or entice any rodent or rabbit species into your yard, back porch, or patio. If you must dispose of a carcass wear gloves or use a shovel.
  • Eliminate rodent habitat, such as piles of lumber, broken cement, trash, and weeds around your home, outbuildings, and cabins.

For questions related to plague or other diseases carried by animals or to report rodent colony die-offs, contact the Environmental Health Division at the Weld County Health Department at (970) 304-6415.