A squirrel has tested positive for the bubonic plague in Colorado, United States.
Health officials have confirmed that the animal is the first known case of the plague in The Town of Morrison, Jefferson County, which is located around 17 miles southwest of Denver.
While the risk is said to be low to humans if they take precautions, they can get infected through bites from infected fleas or animals.
‘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,’ health officials explained in a statement.
‘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.’
Anyone who owns pets in the area is being urged to consult their veterinarian about flea control in a bid to prevent their animals from transferring the illness.
The health experts went on to list the symptoms of plague, which include ‘sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes, occurring within two to seven days after exposure’.
Jefferson County Public Health has recommended a series of measures residents can do to help protect against plague.
These include not feeding wild animals, eliminating food sources, shelter and access to wild animals around the home, making sure all litter and rubbish is taken away from the home, avoiding contact with sick or dead wild animals, using protection while handing sick pets and having sick pets examined by professionals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US says that although there’s currently no vaccine for the bubonic plague, it can be treated with antibiotics, as long as it’s caught within 24 hours of exhibiting symptoms.
The plague is believed to have started in China in 1334, spreading among trade routes and reaching Europe in the late 1340s. Around 25 million people are believed to have died, as the virus lingered for centuries killing 70,000 Londoners during the Great Plague of London in 1665 and 1666.
However, people shouldn’t be too alarmed as the CDC says there’s currently only an average of seven human plague cases each year and the mortality rate is said to between 8-10%.
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