Updated 10:34 PM EST, Wed, Jan 20, 2021

Colorado Teen Killed by Rare Plague From Fleas, Says Health Officials

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A 16-year-old student from Larimer County died from a rare strain of plague just the day after his birthday, reports USA Today. Taylor Gaes, a sophomore at Poudre High School, is considered as the first resident in the area to have been infected by the deadly disease since 1999, according to health officials.

Per Larimer County Department of Health and Environment representative Katie O'Donnell, Gaes began experiencing flu-like symptoms after a baseball game on June 4. He also had muscle pain and soreness.

"It's just the third case in the past 30 years that we've seen," she said. "It's hard to diagnose because people tend to not have the typical symptoms to start out with and ultimately, they don't get on antibiotics in time."

Gaes' father, Shannon, also recalls how their son woke them up two days after his fever to tell them he had just coughed up blood. They rushed to the hospital but Taylor stopped breathing five miles away from the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.

"My wife didn't even make it to the hospital," he said.

To determine the exact source of the infection, the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment partnered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Larimer County Coroner's Office and the state health department.

So far, results show that Gaes contracted the septicemic plague from fleas on a dead rodent or other animals on his family's ranch in the Cherokee Park, Livermore, Colorado. MedicineNet explains that this form of plague transpires when bacteria multiplies in the blood.

Symptoms include weakness, fever or chills, internal bleeding, and abdominal pain. Officials are now warning other family members and guests to seek medical attention as soon as possible, if they're feeling sick.

"There is a small chance that others might have been bitten by infected fleas, so anyone who was on the family's land in the last seven days should seek medical attention immediately if a fever occurs," states Larimer health officials.

The victim's family also urged their visitors to schedule a check-up to guarantee their safety. "It's not human-to-human contagious and it's highly unlikely that anyone else was bit by an infected flea, but the family didn't want to wait and risk someone else getting sick," said O'Donnell.

According to the CDC, about seven human plague cases are reported annually across the United States, mostly from California, western Nevada, Oregon and the Four Corners region in the Southwest.

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