MORRISON, Colo. - A squirrel has tested positive for the bubonic plague in Colorado.
According to health officials, the squirrel is the first case of plague in The Town of Morrison, Jefferson County, which is about 17 miles southwest of Denver.
“Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals,” public health officials wrote. However, if proper precautions are taken, the risk of getting plague is “extremely low,” they said.
Humans can get infected through bites from infected fleas or animals.
"Cats are highly susceptible to plague and may die if not treated promptly with antibiotics. Cats can contract plague from flea bites, a rodent scratch/bite or ingestion of a rodent. Dogs are not as susceptible to plague; however, they may pick up and carry plague-infected rodent fleas," officials wrote.
The public health department advised pet owners to consult a veterinarian if they suspect their pet is ill. Also, pet owners living near wildlife habitats, such as prairie dog colonies, should ask their veterinarian about flea control.
Symptoms of plague can include high fever, chills, headache and nausea, among other signs, occurring within a week of exposure. However, plague can be treated with antibiotics upon early diagnosis.
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult a physician.
Jefferson County Public Health recommends the following precautions to protect against plague:
- 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.