Colorado squir­rel tests pos­i­tive for bubonic plague

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Ryan W. Miller

A squir­rel in a Colorado has tested pos­i­tive for bubonic plague, pub­lic health of­fi­cials say.

The ro­dent was found in Mor­ri­son, a town out­side Den­ver in Jef­fer­son County. The county’s health of­fi­cials said in a state­ment that the squir­rel was the first case of plague in the county.

Bubonic plague is one of three forms of the in­fec­tious disease caused by the Yersinia pestis bac­te­ria. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion, bubonic plague is usu­ally con­tracted af­ter an in­fected flea bite.

Jef­fer­son County Pub­lic Health said in its state­ment that house­hold pets can

be sus­cep­ti­ble to plague in­fec­tion which could trans­fer to hu­mans if they pick up in­fected fleas.

“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,” the depart­ment said in a state­ment.

Al­though tied to his­toric pan­demics like the Black Death, plague ill­nesses do still oc­cur around the world and in the United States ev­ery year, though they are rare. In the U.S., most plague cases oc­cur in the South­west, in­clud­ing in New Mex­ico, Ari­zona and Colorado, the CDC says.

In China’s In­ner Mon­go­lia re­gion last week, a case of bubonic plague was con­firmed, spark­ing health of­fi­cials in

Bayan­nur to raise its alert level for plague ill­ness.

Mod­ern an­tibi­otics have sig­nif­i­cantly low­ered plagues’ mor­tal­ity rate. Symp­toms of bubonic plague can in­clude fever, headache, chills, weak­ness and swollen lymph nodes, the CDC says. The bac­te­ria can spread to other parts of the body if un­treated.

Jef­fer­son County Pub­lic Health ad­vised avoid­ing wild an­i­mals, es­pe­cially those that ap­pear sick or dead. Pets should also be kept a safe dis­tance from wild an­i­mals, and own­ers should con­sult a vet­eri­nar­ian if a pet does be­come ill, the depart­ment says.

Plague, a disease caused by a bac­te­rial in­fec­tion, is un­re­lated to the new coro­n­avirus, which causes COVID-19.


A squir­rel car­ries an acorn in its mouth in Lon­don’s Hyde Park on Sept. 25, 2008.

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