It is believed that 16-year-old Taylor Gaes contracted a rare form of septicemic plague from fleas found on a dead rodent, or possibly another animal, in the Cherokee park area in Larimer County, Colorado.
The rarely seen from of septicemic plague enters the bloodstream directly and almost always kills its victim, and worryingly officials are warning that others in the area may have also been bitten by fleas infected with the disease.
Health officials released a statement to residents on Friday, which said:
“There is a small chance that others might have been bitten by infected fleas, so anyone who was on the family’s land in the last seven days should seek medical attention immediately if a fever occurs“.
The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment has teamed up with experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state health department and Larimer County Coroner’s Office.
While Gaes is the first Larimer County resident confirmed to have contracted the plague since 1999, a Weld County resident was infected in 2004 while camping in the Red Feather Lakes area.
Plague, spread through rodent populations in a localized area, was found earlier this year in a remote part of Soapstone Natural Area that was not open to the public. Plague often results in sweeping animal “die-offs.”
An average of seven human plague cases are reported each year across the country, according to the CDC, usually concentrated in the Four Corners region in the Southwest and parts of California, Oregon and western Nevada.
Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease among human, accounting for about 80% of cases. Symptoms begin two to six days after the bite of an infected flea or contact with an infected rodent or cat. Typical symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, sudden onset of fever or chills, severe headache, extreme exhaustion, and a general feeling of illness.
Other forms of plague include septicemic plague — when bacteria enters the bloodstream — and pneumonic plague — when bacteria is inhaled.
Bubonic plague can be successfully treated when diagnosed promptly.
More than $15,000 has been raised in an online fundraiser for Gaes’ family.
The Poudre High football and baseball player had been fighting what his family thought were early symptoms of a “bad flu” in the days before his death, his father, Shannon Gaes, told the Coloradoan. Taylor had a high fever that came and went, and he complained of muscle aches and soreness.