Plague confirmed in Colorado Springs squirrel

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A squirrel found in Colorado Springs earlier this month has tested positive for plague, the state health department said Tuesday.

El Paso County Public Health said last week that multiple squirrels had died of suspected plague in the Patty Jewett and Divine Redeemer neighborhoods of Colorado Springs. The state health department confirmed that one of the squirrels tested positive last week.

Health officials say it’s common for plague to be present this time of year. Plague has been present in Colorado since at least the 1940s, and cases in wild rodents are reported most years. Plague was found in animals in Adams and Broomfield counties last year.

While Colorado sees most plague activity during the summer, the disease can be found in rodents year-round and sometimes spills over into other wildlife species as well as domestic cats and dogs.

Plague is an infectious disease most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected flea, but it can also be transmitted by infected animal tissues, fluids, or respiratory droplets.

Two cases of human plague infection were reported statewide in 2020. Both people had exposure to sick animals, and both survived.

The health department recommends the following precautions to protect people and their pets:

  • Do not directly handle any wildlife.
  • Keep pets away from wildlife, especially dead rodents and rabbits.
  • Don’t let dogs or cats hunt prairie dogs, other rodents, or rabbits.
  • Don’t allow pets to roam freely.
  • Treat all pets for fleas according to a veterinarian’s advice.
  • Do not feed wildlife—this attracts them to your property, brings them in close contact, and increases the risk of disease transmission.
  • Be aware of rodent and rabbit populations in your area and report sudden die-offs or multiple dead animals to your local health department.

Symptoms of plague include sudden fever, headache, chills, weakness, and tender, painful lymph nodes. People who think they have been exposed should contact a healthcare provider immediately.

While there are no publicly available vaccines to prevent plague in people, if caught early, it can be successfully treated with antibiotics in both people and pets.

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