Health officials in Colorado have issued a warning to residents in Boulder County that the bubonic plague has been found in fleas taken from a prairie dog.
Notices posted on fence posts around a 44-acre open-space property say that "wild rodents and other small mammals" including squirrels, prairie dogs and rabbits "may be infected with plague."
The signs recommend people treat their pets with anti-flea medication, avoid open spaces where the plague has been confirmed and avoid contact "with all sick or dead rodents." Other advice:
· Avoid fleas. Protect pets with flea powder or drops, or a new flea collar. Keep pets on a leash and out of wild rodent habitats.
· Avoid all contact with wild rodents, including squirrels; do not feed or handle them.
· Prevent rodent infestations around your house. Clear plants and material away from outside walls, reduce access to food items and set rodent traps.
· Treat known rodent sites around your home with flea powder or a suitable insecticide.
According to KUSA-TV, it is the first confirmed case of plague in Boulder County since 2011, when a domesticated cat and a dead squirrel tested positive for it. According to the Boulder County Public Health Department, two squirrels had been tested for plague earlier this year, but those tests came back negative.
"The fleas don't travel large distances, so it's nothing we're seeing spread or becoming an epidemic," Lane Drager, consumer protection coordinator for Boulder County Public Health, told the Daily Camera. "It's confined to that one area. But if pets are going into these areas, they are risking exposure for themselves and for those pet owners."
Still, locals should be on the lookout for symptoms of plague ("sudden onset of fever and chills, severe headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, general feeling of systemic (whole body) illness, extreme pain and swelling in the lymph node") and seek immediate treatment.
Plague can be treated with antibiotics, the officials added, but treatment is “most successful when the disease can be diagnosed quickly."