A 3-year-old pet dog was taken to the vet’s because he was acting lethargic and was running a fever. The vet treated it with antibiotics, but soon the dog was coughing up blood and was sent to the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
At the Vet Hospital doctors soon realized he was infected with THE PLAGUE, a rare and deadly disease. Before they knew what was wrong with this dog, more than 100 people were potentially exposed.
During a pandemic called the Black Death in the 1300s in Europe, the Plague killed millions. Although it is relatively rare in North America, there are seven human plague cases on average yearly, most in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.
Where did the dog contact the plague? It had been seen sniffing a dead prairie dog (an animal that can carry the plague-causing bacteria). Despite this, the vets didn’t consider the plague to be a likely cause for the dog’s illness because it was winter and plague infections mainly occur between April and October.
The vets suspected the dog had aspiration pneumonia which is a lung infection caused by something inhaled, such as food. However, a sample from the dog’s lungs tested positive for a bacteria that was plague-like two days later. They weren’t convinced so the next day they performed another protocol for detecting plague and it, too, came back positive. The dog had the most serious form of the disease, pneumonic plague, which can be spread through the air.
During the dog’s care, 116 people had possibly been exposed as a result of being close to the dog (within 6 feet) or its samples. Employees and other animals were placed on preventative antibiotics, and fortunately, none contacted this deadly disease. However, the dog had to be euthanized on the same day it was diagnosed as his condition had worsened.
People need to be aware that the plague can show up outside the usual months of spring through fall. They also need to understand that a dog or other animal can spread the disease to people. A dog in Colorado contracted pneumonic plague in 2014 spreading it to four people.