Squirrel in Colorado Tests Positive for Bubonic Plague

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

A squirrel tested positive for bubonic plague Saturday in the Town of Morrison, Colorado, local health officials announced Sunday.

“The squirrel is the first case of plague in the county. Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals if proper precautions are not taken,” Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) said in a press release.

Humans can be infected with plague through bites from infected fleas, the cough of an infected animal, or by direct contact with blood or tissues of an infected animal, the agency noted.

Cats are especially susceptible to plague and could die if not treated with antibiotics. Dogs are at a lower risk of infection, but could carry infected fleas, according to WGN 9.

“Symptoms of plague in humans include sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes, occurring within two to seven days after exposure. It can be effectively treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early,” the report said.

The site continued:

Plague was first introduced into the United States in 1900, by rat–infested steamships that had sailed from affected areas, mostly from Asia. Epidemics occurred in port cities. The last urban plague epidemic in the United States occurred in Los Angeles from 1924 through 1925. Plague then spread from urban rats to rural rodent species, and became entrenched in many areas of the western United States.

“Over 80% of United States plague cases have been the bubonic form. In recent decades, an average of seven human plague cases have been reported each year (range: 1–17 cases per year),” the agency noted.

However, the JCPH said the risk of being infected with plague was extremely low as long as residents took the following precautions:

  • Eliminate all sources of food, shelter and access for wild animals around the home.
  • Do not feed wild animals.
  • Maintain a litter and trash-free yard to reduce wild animal habitats.
  • People and pets should avoid contact with sick or dead wild animals and rodents.
  • Use precaution when handling sick pets. Have sick pets examined by a veterinarian.
  • Consult with your veterinarian about flea and tick control for your pets.
  • Keep pets from roaming freely outside the home where they may prey on wild animals and bring the disease home with them.

Although plague could take different clinical forms, the most common were bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.

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