BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)– For the first time in more than 20 years, a Boulder resident has tested positive for plague. And it’s putting some on alert.

“I’m surprised but everybody needs to be cautious,” said Boulder County resident Peter Schow.

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The 58-year-old Boulder man picked up a dead chipmunk on his property and a few days later went to the doctor after experiencing fever, chills, muscle pain, weakness, loss of appetite and confusion. He received antibiotic treatment and is recovering at home.

His case is the first human case in Boulder since 1993.

“We do have concerns,” said Jamie Feld with Boulder County Public Health.

Plague occurs naturally in Colorado and is an infectious disease that spreads when infected fleas bite wild rodents or other small mammals such as rock squirrels, wood rats, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, prairie dogs, and rabbits. Wild carnivores can also become infected by eating other infected animals.

“It’s definitely going to make me a little more cautious,” said Boulder County resident Cheryl Seaman.

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Plague can spread to humans when infected fleas from pets or wild rodents bite them, or when they touch dead or dying animals infected with the disease.

When rodents die from plague, the hungry fleas seek other sources of blood. People and animals visiting places where rodents have recently died from plague are at risk of being infected from flea bites.

“We are out on a hike with all these kids that, you know, they can touch something, pick up an animal before you get up to it,” said Seaman.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

The recent wet weather has also played a role.

“With the heavy rain falls there has been more rodents in our environment so that makes it easier for bacteria and other diseases to spread,” said Feld.

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Additional Information from Boulder County Public Health:

  • Public health officials recommend the following precautions to reduce the likelihood of being exposed to plague:
  • Reduce rodent habitat around the home, work place, and recreational areas. Remove brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood, and possible rodent food supplies, such as pet and wild animal food. Make your home and outbuildings rodent-proof.
  • Wear gloves if handling or skinning potentially infected animals to prevent contact between skin and the plague bacteria. Do not feed or handle wild animals, including squirrels and chipmunks.
  • Use repellent if you could possibly be exposed to rodent fleas during activities, such as camping, hiking, or working outdoors. Products containing DEET can be applied to the skin, as well as clothing, and products containing permethrin can be applied to clothing.
  • Keep fleas off of your pets by applying flea-control products. Pets that roam freely are more likely to come in contact with plague-infected animals or fleas and could bring them into homes. If your pet becomes sick, seek care from a veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Household pets, such as dogs and cats, can carry plague-infected fleas home. In rare instances, cats and dogs infected with plague can transmit the disease to humans. Dead rodents or rabbits should be placed in a bag using a long-handled shovel and disposed of in an outdoor trash receptacle.
  • Symptoms of plague usually develop 1 to 6 days after being infected. They include high fever; extreme fatigue; nausea and vomiting; muscle aches; and sometimes painful swollen lymph nodes (called buboes) or pneumonia.
  • Any person or pet that’s had contact with rodents or their fleas and develops these symptoms should contact their healthcare provider or veterinarian immediately. Plague can be treated with antibiotics, but treatment is most successful when started early in the illness.