State Biologists, Journalists Treated For Plague Exposure

Sep 5, 2018, 6:59 PM | Updated: Sep 6, 2018, 9:07 am

CEDAR CITY, Utah – Several wildlife biologists and one of our own KSL TV photojournalists have been placed on antibiotics after a potential exposure to the plague. The three biologists handled dead prairie dogs in Southern Utah, that later tested positive for the plague.

State wildlife officials said they acted out of an abundance of caution when they realized several people may have been exposed.

“Even though the health professionals said, you don’t need to be concerned about anybody getting sick. We just wanted to make sure that everybody had the information,” said Mark Hadley, spokesman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Yes, THAT plague. The same plague that killed millions in Europe in the Middle Ages. A doctor familiar with the disease said antibiotics have nearly eliminated plague among humans. It’s still widespread and problematic in prairie dog colonies in Utah, and that’s what raised the concerns.

Twelve days ago, a wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Land Management found three dead prairie dogs in a colony in Iron County.

“He placed the prairie dogs in the back of a truck, drove into our Cedar City office, and two DWR biologists at the office went ahead and put the prairie dogs in plastic bags, sealed them up,” said Hadley.

The biologists sent those bags to a diagnostic lab in Spanish Fork.

“We wanted to know what killed the prairie dogs,” said Hadley.

Six days later they got the results.

“That indicated that these prairie dogs had died from the plague,” said Hadley.

As a preventative measure, the three biologists who handled the dead prairie dogs were put on antibiotics.

“To make sure that no one got sick who actually handled these prairie dogs,” said Hadley.

They also had concerns about the truck used to transport the dead prairie dogs. It was used for a capture and collar operation one day before they got the results on the plague. KSL photojournalist Mark Weaver shot that story, and was called by the DWR last Friday, along with two other journalists.

“I was not physically in the truck,” said Weaver. “But I was right off to the side of it.”

When he got the call from Hadley informing him that there was a slight chance he had been exposed to the plague.

“I was stunned,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think. All of these wild thoughts started going through my mind.”

Especially because he was arriving at the hospital for the birth of his first grandchild.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

A conversation with the chief medical officer of the Southwest Utah Health Department eased his fears. The DWR had given Weaver the doctor’s contact information.

“He told me basically that I was at minimal risk. If I wanted to completely play it safe, that I should go to an InstaCare and get some antibiotics,” said Weaver.

Which he did.

“I just couldn’t go into that family birthing center having that in the back of my mind,” he said. “I had to do something.”

The medical director told Weaver he was likely out of the window of exposure.

“I’ve been doing this for 33 years now, and I think that I’ve encountered everything,” said Weaver. “I’ve never had a brush with the plague before.”

Just a good story for a photojournalist to tell his happy and healthy granddaughter someday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are three different forms – the bubonic plague, the septicemic plague, and the pneumonic plague. Both bubonic and septicemic are transmitted by bite from an infected flea. Septicemic can also be transmitted by handling an infected animal.

Pneumonic plague is the only one that can be transported person to person. That happens by inhaling infectious droplets that spread to the lungs.

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State Biologists, Journalists Treated For Plague Exposure