Black Plague Strikes Near Denver

A prairie dog eats a bait containing a plague vaccine. (Tonie Rocke, USGS)

Plague-Infected Prairie Dogs Cause Parks to Close Near Denver
by Jason Daley 

Bubonic plague may seem like a disease that’s been relegated to the history books, but that’s not the case. The disease that struck terror in people in the Middle Ages is alive and well in the modern world, and it’s most recently appeared in prairie dog towns in the suburbs of Denver.

Morgan Krakow at The Washington Post reports that in late July, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service shut down the 15,000-acre Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge north of the city when fleas infected with the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis were found in the refuge’s black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Last weekend, parts of the refuge reopened, but certain areas will remain closed through Labor Day. According to a press release from Colorado’s Tri-County Health Department, the Prairie Gateway Open Space in Commerce City is also closed to the public as well as First Creek at DEN Open Space, a nature preserve near Denver International Airport. So far, there are no reports of any humans contracting plague in the area.

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