Photo: Helen H. Richardson / Denver Post via Getty Images
Parts of Colorado wildlife refuge remain closed Sunday after officials found plague-infected prairie dogs in late July . Wildlife and natural areas near Denver are closed as employees continue efforts to stem the spread of the disease.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, an area of 15,000 acres northeast of Denver, was able to partially open on Sunday. The refuge is home to many species, including bison and bald eagles, and when plague concerns first developed in the black-tailed prairie dog.
Plague-infested fleas have bitten prairie dogs, and employees begin to close affected areas "as a precautionary measure to prioritize the health and safety of visitors while allowing staff to protect wildlife health," it is said in a statement from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Certain areas remain closed due to the risk of crossing them and adopting pets. Dogs are less susceptible to plague than cats but can take fleas that can infect other animals and humans, said Gilbert Casier and an environmental health specialist at the Tri-County Department of Health.
"If you bring the dog home and he sleeps, then these fleas can jump and get on you," Casier said.
Although the plague can now be treated with antibiotics, it has a dark history and according to The CDC was responsible for the deaths of 60 percent of Europe's population during the Black Death.In 1900, ships infected with rats sailing from plague-prone areas caused epidemics in US port cities, but the latest epidemic was in Los Angeles in the 1920s.
Most cases of plague in the West are recorded today USA States, with an average of seven cases reported annually in recent decades, The plague-causing bacterium, Yersinia pestis, often infects small rodents such as rats, mice and, in the most recent incident in Colorado, prairie dogs. To transmit the disease to humans and other large mammals In addition to fleas, humans can become infected by the plague from contact with the body fluids of infected animals or by inhaling the cough droplets of plague bacteria.
The bubonic plague is responsible for 80 percent of the plague cases in each U.S. year, according to the CDC. A boy in Idaho contracted a bubonic plague last year. In 2017, Arizona officials alerted residents after finding plague bacteria. Unfortunately, in 2015, a star high school student died of a plague in Colorado.
The plague continues to engender some communities around the world. In 2017, 202 people were killed in a pneumonic plague outbreak in Madagascar, according to World Health Organization reports.
Colorado health officials cover holes in prairie dogs with insecticide powder. When prairie dogs enter their holes and face the dust, Casier said, it kills fleas on them and prevents them from spreading to other animals.
Some parts of the Rocky Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas will remain closed during Labor Day weekend, officials said Friday. The areas include parts of the Wildlife Refuge and other outdoor spaces in Commerce City, a suburb outside of Denver. Officials explained that Dick's Sporting Goods Park, the venue for the nearby event, will continue to host all events, but that parking is limited to asphalt parking because there are populations of prairie dogs in the grassy areas. This is good news for those heading to the show on August 30th.