COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4)– Several locations in Commerce City remain closed as health officials investigate cases of plague in prairie dogs. The voluntary closures include Commerce City open space areas, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and unpaved parking areas at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Officials at the Tri-County Health Department say plague-infested fleas are affecting the prairie dog colonies in the region.
“Plague in prairie dog colonies is common in Colorado and can be managed safely with insecticide to kill the fleas that spread the disease,” said John M. Douglas, Jr., MD, executive director of Tri-County Health Department. “Our partners have voluntarily closed these locations to prevent any humans or pets from wandering into the affected areas.”
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge has been temporarily closed to the public as staff implements the refuge’s prairie dog management plan.
“The crews that are out here right now are spraying every single prairie dog burrow with insecticide designed to kill flees,” David Lucas, manager of the refuge, said.
Lucas says they have two confirmed cases of plague in prairie dogs on the refuge.
“It is concerning that we do have this going on. Our number one concern is of course our employee safety, our visitor safety, and public safety and from there. We are a wildlife refuge,” he said.
They are also home to one off the most endangered mammals in North America, the black-footed ferret.
“Black-footed ferrets live in prairie dog colonies; on the refuge we have one of the largest populations in the nation,” he said.
While his staff work to protect life inside the refuge, outside Tri-County Health officials are taking their own precautions in public areas.
Gilbert Cazier with the Tri-County Health Department says they are assessing the situation and asking the community to be more aware.
“Be cautious of where they are protect yourself with insect repellent be mindful of your pets, keep them on leashes and if they are free roaming animals use some sort of flea control,” Cazier said.
Until there are clear signs the outbreak is contained, both men say closed signs will remain in place.
“We are doing everything in our power to open as soon as we can,” Lucas said.
Officials with the refuge will reevaluate the closure on Monday.
Health officials say there are no known human cases at this time, but if you think you may have been exposed, and have symptoms similar to the flu, you should consult a doctor.