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CDC: Colorado Dog Key to U.S. Pneumonic Plague Outbreak

Health officials detail rare, multiple-case infection

FRIDAY, May 1, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A Colorado dog last year caused the largest outbreak of pneumonic plague -- also called the Black Death -- in the United States since 1924, scientists reported Thursday.

Four people, including the dog's owner, ended up contracting the rare and potentially deadly infection, Colorado public health officials reported. Their findings were published in the May 1 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The outbreak took place in the rural Eastern Plains of Colorado, and centered around a 2-year-old pit bull terrier. The dog had to be put to sleep in June 2014 after developing a mysterious illness that caused bloody mucous. The pit bull's owner, a friend of the owner, and two veterinary clinic workers developed similar symptoms in the days that followed. All wound up testing positive for Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague.

The plague is infamous for killing millions of Europeans during the Middle Ages. Untreated pneumonic plague has a fatality rate of 93 percent and higher, according to the researchers. Although now rare, plague still exists in certain areas. About eight human plague cases are reported each year in the United States, the CDC reports. These cases are generally spread by rural rodent populations in parts of the American West.

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