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El Paso County squirrel tests positive for plague

Squirrel on tree
Posted at 5:31 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 19:31:40-04

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) confirmed a squirrel tested positive for plague in El Paso County last week.

CDPHE says it’s not uncommon for plague to be present in Colorado at this time of year, and simple precautions can keep the risk of transmission very low to humans.

Plague is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected flea, but it can also be transmitted by infected animals. Plague symptoms include sudden fever, headache, chills, weakness and tender, painful lymph nodes.

Anyone who suspects they may have been in contact with the disease should contact their health provider immediately. If caught early, both people and pets can be treated with antibiotics.

Precautions for people and their pets include not handling any wildlife, keeping pets away from wildlife, treating pets for fleas, not feeding wildlife and reporting sudden die-offs of rodents and rabbits in the community.

Plague has been in Colorado since at least the 1940s, and while activity is usually during the summer, it can be found in rodents all year, according to Dr. Jennifer House, the state public health veterinarian. She says cases are reported in wild rodents most years, but it can sometimes spill over into other wildlife species, as well as domestic cats and dogs.

The disease was also found in animals in areas of Adams and Broomfield counties last summer, as well as two cases of human plague infection in 2020. Both of the people had exposure to sick animals and survived.