Utah Plague: Health Officials Issue Warning After State's First Casualty From 'Black Death' In 35 Years

Utah has been hit with its fourth case of bubonic plague this year, and health officials are now issuing a warning on how people can avoid the deadly disease known as the Black Death.

This week, an elderly man died of the disease, which has been found in rural parts of the state. Officials believe the latest victim --- the first death of the plague in Utah in 35 years --- contracted the disease from a flea or with contact from a dead animal, the Deseret News reported.

The man was not believed to have traveled to a part of the state where the disease is more commonly found, said JoDee Baker, an epidemiologist for the Utah health department.

"It's a rare disease in general," Baker said. "It most commonly lives in areas where people just don't go very often and even then, it happens by chance."

The plague killed 25 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages,and was brought to the United States in the early 1900s by rats on steamships. It crops up from time to time in the United States, and this year, there have been four deaths, CNN noted.

Now, the Utah Department of Health is warning people against the plague, issuing a press release detailing the latest case and giving advisement on how people can avoid contracting the disease. The plague has been found in rural parts of the state, found on rats and spread by fleas.

The Department noted:

  • Reduce rodent habitat around your home, work place, and recreational areas. Remove brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood, and possible rodent food supplies, such as pet and wild animal food. Make your home and outbuildings rodent-proof.
  • Always wear gloves if you are handling or skinning wild animals to prevent contact between your skin and potential plague bacteria. Contact your local health department if you have questions about disposal of dead animals.
  • Use repellent if you think you could be exposed to rodent fleas during activities such as camping, hiking, or working outdoors. Products containing DEET can be applied to the skin as well as clothing and products containing permethrin can be applied to clothing (always follow instructions on the label).
Other tips on how to avoid plague can be found here.

Utah officials added that plague can be treated if the person seeks medical attention early enough. The latest victim did not seek immediate treatment, officials added.

[Picture by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images]