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Cat tests positive for plague, pet owners urged to take precautions

By Jane Looney
Special to The SUN

San Juan Basin Health Department reports that a cat from the Bayfield area has tested positive for plague.

No humans have been infected.

The health department has  posted signs in that area to alert residents.

Plague is endemic in the southwestern Colorado community and throughout the western United States. It exists within the natural, complex cycle of wild rodents and  rabbits and their fleas.  Infected domestic animals generally have a history of outdoor exposure in rural areas.  Free roaming pets have been increasingly implicated in human cases as they bring infected fleas into the home.

Cats are highly susceptible to plague. Typical symptoms for cats are fever, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes.  Seek professional veterinary care for such animals and do not handle suspiciously sick pets without gloves. Cats may transmit plague to humans through transporting infected fleas into the home. If a cat is infected, they may spread the disease through biting or scratching a human or by direct contact with their infected tissue. Dogs are highly resistant to plague and do not transmit plague directly but can transport infected fleas into the home.

Prevent plague in both cats and dogs by using approved flea control products. For more information on flea control for pets, contact your veterinarian.

To prevent human plague infection, do not feed or entice any rodent, rabbit or squirrel.  Avoid contact with sick and dead rodents, prairie dogs, rock squirrels, rabbits  and feral cats.  Remember to protect yourself and your pets from exposure to fleas.

The incubation period for human plague is two to six days.  Typically symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, sudden onset of fever or chills, severe headache, muscle  aches, nausea, vomiting and general feeling of illness. Human plague can be treated successfully and cured if it is diagnosed early.  Please consult a physician if sudden unexplained illness occurs.

Sudden die-offs in prairie dog or other rodent populations may signal a plague risk in a given area.  Residents who observe these population drops should contact the  Health Department immediately at 335-2053 or 335-2028.

For more information on plague, visit San Juan Basin Health Department’s website: www.sjbhd.org.

This story was posted on August 9, 2013.