Utah public health officials confirmed an elderly resident from southeast Utah died from plague last month. This was the first Utah resident to be diagnosed with plague since 2009. The elderly male died on August 20 of cardiac arrest. Five days later, labs tests confirmed he had a form of the plague.
Since April 1, 12 cases of human plague have been reported in seven states: Arizona (2), California (1), Colorado (4), Georgia (1), New Mexico (2), Oregon (1), and Utah (1). The two cases in Georgia and the California resident have been linked to exposures at or near Yosemite National Park. Human plague occurs in areas where bacteria are present in wild rodent populations. Risks are generally highest in rural areas, including campsites and homes that provide food and shelter to ground squirrels, chipmunks and wood rats.
Plague is a vector-borne disease normally transmitted through flea bites or bites from an infected mammal. People can also become infected through direct contact with infected tissues or fluids or breathing in droplets from infected humans with pneumonic plague. The most common vectors of the plague are rodents and infected fleas.
Plague is a very serious illness, and some common symptoms include fever, headache, chills, and weakness.
How to prevent exposure to plague:
1. Try to reduce the rodent population around your home, workplace and recreational areas.
2. Wear gloves when handling any wild animals.
3. Treat your animals with flea repellants.
4. Treat yourself and your clothing with DEET and permethrin.
5. Clean and disinfect all knives and equipment used to process wild game.
6. Cook all wild game to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more information about the plague, please contact Airman 1st Class Shannon Toland or Staff Sgt. Dinno Lorenzo at the public health office at 801-586-9767/9660.