LARIMER COUNTY, Colo., June 21 (UPI) — A Colorado teenager and high school athlete who died earlier this month was killed by the bubonic plague, health officials have said.
Taylor Gaes died June 8 after he was afflicted by a severe illness he seemingly picked up on his family’s property. The Larimer County Health Department said he caught the plague — likely from fleas on an animal carcass somewhere.
Gaes is the first Larimer County resident to contract the plague since 1999, officials said.
Health officials have advised friends and relatives who were in close proximity to Gaes after his death to submit to a medical evaluation immediately — as the host fleas may have spread to others nearby.
Health experts said the plague is very rare, but can spread quickly among rodents in a localized area — and is often accompanied by mass animal “die-offs,” CBS Denver reproted.
There are currently no other reported cases of plague in Larimer County, or anywhere in Colorado.
Bubonic plague first arrived in the United States in 1900 from rat-infested steamships arriving from other continents, mainly Asia. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the last urban plague epidemic occurred in Los Angeles between 1924 and 1925.
The CDC says the vast majority of human plague cases have occurred in two main regions — northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, and southern Colorado, and California, southern Oregon, and far western Nevada.
Since 1912, only one case of human plague has been reported east of the Mississippi River, in Indiana. Since the disease arrived more than a century ago, there have been less than 1,100 human cases reported in the United States. About 80 percent of cases involved the bubonic form.
The onset of bubonic plague is typically accompanied by numerous symptoms — like fever, headache, chills, and weakness as well as swollen lymph nodes, the CDC says. If the patient is not treated with antibiotics, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body.