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Squirrel in Morrison tests positive for bubonic plague

Squirrel on tree
Posted at 6:52 AM, Jul 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 13:29:54-04

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — A squirrel found in Morrison on July 11 tested positive for the bubonic plague.

This is the first known case of the plague in the county this year, according to Jefferson County Public Health. It's not an uncommon sickness to see in rodents year to year in Colorado. This is the first case in Jefferson County since 2017, according to the health department. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scientists believe the plague bacteria circulates in low rates of rodent populations regularly.

The health department said the squirrel was tested after a citizen reported seeing more than a dozen dead squirrels in the area.

"We do not usually test individual dead animals for plague, but we are concerned and it is common procedure to test animals when there are large die-offs, such as in this case," the health departed tweeted Wednesday.

Both humans and household animals can become infected with the plague without proper precautions.

Humans may become sick with the plague through bites from infected fleas, a cough from an infected animal, or direct contact — such as a bite — with the blood or tissue of an infected animal, according to the health department. This is very rare.

Dogs and cats are also susceptible to the plague, though cats are more vulnerable to it. While dogs may pick up and carry plague-infected rodent fleas, cats can contract the plague from flea bites and can die without treatment and antibiotics. If you believe your pet is sick, call your veterinarian. Jefferson County Public Health also recommends talking to your vet about flea prevention if you live near wild animals, including prairie dog colonies.

Symptoms of the plague include:
· Sudden onset of high fever
· Chills
· Headache
· Nausea
· Extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes, within two to seven days after exposure

It can be treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early. The risk of a person getting the plague is extremely low if they take precautions.

To keep yourself and your pets safe, the Jefferson County Public Health recommends:
· Eliminating all sources of food, shelter and access for wild animals around the home
· Not feeding wild animals
· Maintaining a trash-free yard to reduce wild animal habitats
· Avoiding contact with sick or dead wild animals, particularly rodents
· Using precaution when handling sick pets and bringing them to a veterinarian
· Consulting with your veterinarian about flea and tick control for your pets
· Keeping pets from roaming freely outside the home where they may prey on wild animals