A squirrel in Colorado has tested positive for the bubonic plague.
The squirrel, found about 17 miles southwest of Denver in Morrison, tested positive on Saturday and marks Jefferson County’s first case of plague.
“Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals if proper precautions are not taken,” Jefferson County Public Health said Sunday.
The agency noted that humans can contract the disease if bitten by infected fleas, coughed on by an infected animal, or through direct contact (including a bite) with an infected animal’s blood or tissue.
Cats, the health authority said, are very susceptible to plague, particularly through bites from fleas or rodents, scratches from rodents, or ingesting them and may die if they aren’t quickly given antibiotics.
While dogs are less vulnerable to plague, they too can carry diseased fleas.
Bubonic plague symptoms for humans include sudden onset fever, headache, chills, as well as weakness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes. Humans infected with plague may also contend with “one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes (called buboes).”
“Plague is a serious illness,” according to the CDC, which notes that anyone experiencing such symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.
“Prompt treatment with the correct medications is critical to prevent complications or death,” the health body says.
Vaccines for plague are no longer currently available in the U.S. but there are antibiotics, which should be taken ideally within 24 hours of the symptoms’ onset.
In order to prevent plague, CDC urges people to reduce the rodent habitats near places they frequent and make such locations “rodent-proof.”
People should use flea control on products on their pets, use repellent during potential exposure while camping or working outside, wear gloves if handling or skinning animals that could be infected, and contact the local health department if they want to know how to dispose of dead animals.
Pet owners whose animals “roam free in endemic areas” should also not allow their cats or dogs to sleep in their bed.
The health authority also warns against feeding wild animals.
Unlike COVID-19, the virus at the center of the current global pandemic, plague is thankfully “not easily transmitted between people,” the World Health Organization said last week after announcing it was monitoring outbreaks in Inner Mongolia.
The cases in China, WHO said, were “being well managed.”
Bubonic plague, often referred to as Black Death, killed between 30 to 50 million people between years 541 and 549 and another 75 to 200 million people in the 14th century.
Story by Jami Ganz of the New York Daily News.