The Grapevine

Don’t Fear The Plague: High School Pitcher Taylor Gaes Dies From Plague, Likely From Flea Bite

the plague
A high school student has died after catching septicemic plague. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The "plague" is only supposed to be a medieval epidemic or a 20th century existentialist novel. So it came as shock to a Colorado community when a high school student died from the disease earlier this month. 

Taylor Gaes, a baseball player for his high school, was thought to be in perfect health. He began experiencing flu-like symptoms, and died soon after before officials could realize he had contracted the plague, The Denver Post reported. According to Larimer County Health Department spokeswoman Katie O'Donell, it's possible the 6-foot-4 student caught septicemic plague by touching a dead animal on his family's rural Cherokee Park property, or through a flea bite. 

Septicemic plague is an especially life-threatening form of the infectious disease because it travels straight to the blood, where it begins to spread rapidly. Without early diagnosis and treatment, symptoms will worsen, eventually leading to death.   

Don't Worry

While Gaes' death may seem like an even greater public health issue reminiscent of other diseases, such as Ebola or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and while you can still sympathize for Gaes' family, there is no reason to be alarmed by a single case of the plague.

Only about seven people contract the plague in the United States each year, and the last time it showed up in Larimer County was in 1999. In the last 30 years, Larimer County has only seen the plague three times. But with Gaes' symptoms only seeming like the flu, his parents wished to make people aware and cautious. 

Reports of the plague are more commonplace in areas where nations' economies are structurally weak. though plague outbreaks have emerged in Africa, Asia, and South America, most cases have come from Africa since the 1990s. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2013, there were 783 cases reported worldwide, including 126 deaths. The three countries that have the most cases of the plague are Madagascar, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

These countries have large swaths of rural areas, where the disease is most prevalent. They also tend to be short in doctors, who are essential to diagnosing and treating the disease. Because the U.S. has plenty, few cases emerge. Treatment usually involves common antibiotics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that adding supportive therapy early on will successfully treat the plague.

Moving On

The CDC, the State Health Department, and the Larimer County coroner’s office are working in tandem with other experts to investigate Gaes' case. However, it's likely this was an anomaly. 

The Gaes family has asked people to donate to the Taylor Gaes Memorial Baseball Fund to pay for youth baseball league entrance fees for kids in honor of Taylor’s love for the game. As of Monday afternoon, the family had raised $2,350 of its $20,000 goal. The family has decided to pour its efforts into this cause as a way to remember their son.

“He was an outstanding young person,” Haigh told the Denver Post.

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