A Colorado man is infected with the rarest and most fatal form of plague, an airborne version that can be spread through coughing and sneezing.
It is the first case of pneumonic plague seen in the state since 2004, said Jennifer House, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The man, who hasn’t been identified, may have been exposed in Adams County near Denver, health officials said in a statement. While House said the man has been hospitalized and treated, she wouldn’t release other details about his situation.
“He’s on treatment long enough to not be transmissible,” House said in a telephone interview. He may have contracted the illness from his dog, she said, which died suddenly and has also been found to carry the disease.
“We don’t think it’s out in our air,” House said. “We think it’s in our dead animal populations and dead rodent populations.”
Plague in all of its forms infects only about seven people yearly in the U.S. The disease occurs when a bacterium named Yersinia pestis infects the body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The difference between the pneumonic and bubonic varieties is that the bacteria take hold in the lungs in the first case, rather than underneath the skin through insect bites. Both types are treated with antibiotics.