The CDC reports in its MMWR a case of bubonic plague in Colorado that infected 4 people and a dog. The dog, a pit bull, is believed to have come in contact with prairie dogs. The plague could have been transmitted directly from the rodents or by a flea infesting an infected rodent. The dog became severely ill and was euthanized.
The dog’s owner presented symptoms of lung infection when he brought the sick dog to a clinic. Two employees of the Clinic that treated the infected dog and a friend of the man who had visited and had contact with both the man and the dog became infected with plague. One of the clinic workers could have contracted plague from contact with the dog’s blood. However, it is possible that the plague was transmitted by an airborne route from the dog to the people. It is uncertain whether the man’s friend was infected by contact with the man or with his dog.
The disease was initially misdiagnosed. When patients did not respond to treatment, blood samples were test and returned positive for plague, Yersinia pestis. Once plague was positively identified, the man’s property was inspected. No plague was found in the rabbit population but a prairie dog colony had been recently eradicated. The eradicated prairie dog colony is the suspected source of the disease.
Could plague become epidemic in North America? Plague is present in rodent populations in western states. The means of transmission are present. The CDC takes the threat of plague seriously and seeks to prevent any transmission from one infected human to another. This requires vigilance on the part of the people who live and visit these areas and the health care institutions.