Plague-infested prairie dogs force authorities to close some Denver-area parks

Plague outbreaks among prairie dogs have forced Colorado officials to close parks and other open spaces in a Denver suburb, The Denver Post reports.

Parts of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge remain closed to the public, along with unpaved parking lots at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and some open spaces in Commerce City, which lies northeast of Denver, KDVR reported.

Closed areas will remain off-limits until Labor Day while authorities treat prairie dog burrows with insecticide to kill off fleas that spread plague bacteria, The Denver Post reported.

In Weld County, farther northeast of Denver, plague has caused mass die-offs at a prairie dog colony, KMGH reported.

Prairie dogs are sensitive to the plague, once known as the black plague, which can wipe out entire colonies, county officials said in a statement.

“The sudden absence of prairie dogs where there once was an active colony could be a warning sign,” said Dr. Mark E. Wallace of the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment, according to the release.

Infected fleas can spread the disease to humans and other mammals, Weld County officials say.

But the risk of public exposure is considered low in this case because the colony is on private property.

Plague symptoms include fever, headache, chills, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, Weld County officials say, but the disease can be treated with antibiotics.

“Residents should protect themselves by keeping fleas off pets and using an insect repellent when working, playing, or camping in areas where fleas may be present,” Wallace said, according to the release.

Other tips include avoiding all contact with dead or diseased rodents and rabbits, keeping pets from roaming or hunting, taking ill pets to the veterinarian, not feeding rodents or rabbits, and eliminating rodent habitats near homes.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.