The Colorado Rapids soccer team had to cancel a post-game fireworks show Saturday because of an outbreak of bubonic plague at a prairie dog colony near its stadium.
The day before the Kroenke Sports and Entertainment's Major League Soccer team were to host the Montreal Impact, the Rapid's media relations department sent out a press release explaining that officials with the Colorado Tri-County Health Department and Commerce City, home to the Rapid's Dicks Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, had confirmed the "presence of plague-infested fleas affecting prairie dog colonies in the surrounding areas."
The soccer game would still take place, but a post-game pyrotechnics show would be canceled because "the launch site for the fireworks display is located in an area closed down by authorities."
The team had "no alternative but to cancel," explained the release, noting that the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, a popular hiking and outdoor area, would be temporarily closed "as staff continue to assess the scope of impacted areas and implement the refuge’s prairie dog management plan." The nearby Prairie Gateway Open Space was also closed as officials tried to assess the outbreak.
While cases of humans contracting the plague are rare, large parts of Colorado, Nevada, California, Oregon and New Mexico are endemic with plague, meaning the disease continually circulates. The diseases is mostly found in rodent populations, according to a 2019 report in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The article reported that a three-year-old dog carrying pneumonic plague had been brought to a veterinarian in 2017 and exposed more than 116 people and 47 pets to the disease as medical staff struggled to diagnose the animal.
Thankfully no other people or animals contracted the disease and the dog was ultimately treated and released back home. Officials with the CDC explain that outbreaks in humans and dogs are usually preceded by large rodent die offs.
"When this happens, hungry infected fleas leave the dead rodents and seek blood from other hosts, including humans and domestic pets." Outbreaks are more likely to "occur during cooler summers that follow wet winters," according to literature on the CDC's site.
Individuals who believe they have come in contact with plague should contact their health care provider immediately, and the Tri-County Health Department recommends the Rapids avoid using the infected spaces until further notice.
"The health department feels that these precautions will greatly minimize the risk of exposure to patrons, players, and employees and help ensure a safe experience," the Rapids release reads.