Colorado Guy Gets The Plague, In Its Deadliest, Rarest, Most Terrifying Form

Welp, this is terrifying. A Colorado man was diagnosed with the deadliest plague you can get on July 8, according to the Colorado Department of Health. The man, who lives in Adams County near Denver, was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, which happens to be the rarest, deadliest, and therefore most serious form of the disease that precipitated Europe's infamous Black Death, which may have killed around 75 million people in the Middle Ages. In a statement, the CDH said the man may have gotten the illness from his dog, who recently died suddenly.

Plague often is identified when there is an unusual die-off of prairie dogs in an area. When an infected animal dies, the fleas leave the carcass to find another host, thus spreading the disease. Most human plague cases occur when humans are bitten by infected fleas. Less commonly, people are infected by direct contact with blood or tissues from an infected animal or from pets that become infected and transmit the disease.

Sixty people in Colorado have been infected with the plague in the last 57 years, the CDH said, and nine of them have died. In the west, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, the disease is usually spread by wild rodents, like the prairie dogs mentioned in the CDH's statement.

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The pneumonic plague, which affects the lungs, has the same root cause as the bubonic plague: a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. Pneumonic plague is perhaps the scariest because it's the only kind that can spread from person to person, according to the CDC.

So though it sounds Middle Age-y, people do get infected with the plague today. More often than not, though, they don't die from it. That's because the CDC says there's "no need to vaccinate persons other than those at particularly high risk of exposure," and the disease is rare enough that that doesn't include people living out West.

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The news is especially scary in light of a recent revelation that smallpox was discovered in a musty FDA storage room. That finding, and a few others, led the CDC to close a couple of labs this month. Though the plague is considered something that's rare but crops up from time to time, smallpox is considered eradicated and is thus so dangerous that the World Health Organization is supposed to oversee the world's only living samples of it.

No thank you, ancient, terrifying diseases.