Did man die of plague?
Uncertain officials close off affected area
By Anslee Willett/The Gazette
The presence of bubonic plague in a colony of prairie dogs in southeastern Colorado Springs was confirmed Tuesday, and health officials are investigating the death of a man who lived near the area and had plague-like symptoms.
According to El Paso County Coroner David Bowerman, it does not appear the 28-year-old man, whose name was not released, had the plague, said Lt. Melissa Hartman of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
But health officials want more tests done before ruling it out, said Dan Bowlds, director of environmental health services for the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment.
"We still feel because of the circumstances we need something definite," Bowlds said. "We have no way of knowing until we get a lab test back."
Bowlds did not know when tests would be conducted.
If the death is plague-related, it would be the third in El Paso County since the late 1800s.
The man had plague-like symptoms, lived southeast of the Colorado Springs Airport and rode his bicycle near the field where the prairie dog colony lives, health officials said.
The plague, which spreads through bites from infected fleas, is deadly in humans if it goes untreated. Symptoms include enlarged, tender lymph nodes, fever and
On Tuesday, the state Department of Health confirmed the plague.
A die-off of the colony -- south of Drennan Road, north of Bradley Road and east of Marksheffel Road -- was discovered last weekend.
On Monday, health officials distributed pamphlets warning residents to keep pets and children out of the affected area.
Bowlds said about two-thirds of "the big colony" has died and the remaining are dying off.
Authorities blocked off the area Tuesday.
"We don't want people in that field," said April Tooke, a county health department spokeswoman.
Warning signs weren't keeping people out.
"We felt we needed to do something more to let people know to keep out of this property," Bowlds said. "It's for their own safety."
Today, health officials will continue applying insecticide to kill fleas. They also will notify veterinarians and inspect adjacent prairie dogs colonies.
Four cases of human plague have been detected in El Paso County since the late 1800s -- two of the victims died and two survived.
The most recent was in 1991, when a man recovered with prompt medical attention. A 4-month-old girl was the most recent death, in 1984.
Earlier this year, the plague was found in prairie dog colonies in Pueblo West and Araphoe County.
"It's in the area," Bowlds said. "It's here, so you want to take precautions with your pets when you've got them out in the boonies walking them around. Avoid dead rodents. Keep your pets on leashes. Use insect repellents."
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Bubonic plague identified in southeastern Springs neighborhood
Officials with the El Paso County Health Department say the bubonic plague has been identified in one southeastern Colorado Springs neighborhood. Specifically, the area is east and south of the Springs airport between Drennan and Bradley Roads.
Workers at the health department also say a 28-year-old man who lived a half mile from an infected field died Monday after coming down with sudden flu-like symptoms. Health officials have not confirmed that he died from the plague, but
say he used to ride his bike through the field quite often.
Health officials will keep dusting the field for fleas since fleas are mainly responsible for transmitting the disease.
Updated: 6/20/01 12:01:15 PM
Bubonic Plague Death?
Colorado Officials Investigate Man's Death; Prairie Dogs Infected
The Associated Press
C O L O R A D O S P R I N G S, Colo., June 20 - Tests show bubonic plague is present among prairie dogs in a field near the city's airport, and county health officials are investigating the death of a 28-year-old man who had plague-like
Dr. Tisha Dowe, head of the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment, on Tuesday ordered warning signs posted to keep people out of the area.
A man who lived near the prairie dog colony died Monday after suffering symptoms similar to those caused by the plague. Tests to determine the cause of death will take several days, officials said.
The plague is deadly in humans if left untreated. It spreads through bites from infected fleas.
County health officials collected fleas and at least one dead prairie dog from the colony and shipped them to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test for plague.
Dowe said the man who died, whose name wasn't being released immediately, frequently rode a bicycle through the area where the infection was found
Transmission: The bubonic plague is transmitted to humans by infected fleas that pick it up from squirrels, prairie dogs, rats or other rodents.
It also can be transmitted by direct contact with sick or dead animals. Humans and cats are susceptible to the plague. Dogs cannot catch it but can host plague-carrying fleas.
Symptoms in humans: Enlarged, tender lymph nodes, fever, chills and other flu-like symptoms.
Treatment: Antibiotics. The mortality rate is 50 percent to 90 percent if the disease goes untreated, but drops to 15 percent if it's caught early.<P>
Incidence: In the United States, up to 40 cases of the plague in humans are reported each year, usually in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California. In 2000, one case was reported in southeastern Colorado, and three cases were reported in 1999, including an elderly woman who died in Larimer County.
Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention