A possible plague die off of prairie dogs in the Manzanola area was investigated by Otero County Health Department and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment personnel on October 12, 2010. Although there was no evidence of plague carrying fleas in the area examined, citizens are advised to exercise caution in any area frequented by prairie dogs.
If precautions are taken, the probability of an individual contracting plague, even in an active plague area, is quite low. It is important, however, for area residents to be alert to the potential hazard of plague and to take precautions. Colorado Department of Health and Environment recommends the following individual precautions to reduce your risk of plague:
· DO NOT feed or entice any rodent or rabbit species into your yard, back porch or patio.
· Eliminate rodent harborage such as piles of lumber, broken cement, trash and weeds around your home or recreational cabin.
· Make sure that houses and outbuildings are as rodent-proof as possible. Keep foundations in good repair and eliminate overhanging trees from roof and windows.
· When camping or hiking, do not linger in rodent-infested areas. Do not catch, play with or attempt to hand feed wild rodents.
· Avoid contact with all sick and dead rodents and rabbits. Look for the presence of blow flies or dead animal smell as evidence of animal die-offs. Report such areas to local or state health departments or to the appropriate campground office.
· While hiking, treat pants, socks, shoe tops, arms and legs with insect repellants.
· Keep all dogs leashed, or better yet, leave them at home when hiking or camping. This is a good reason to restrain cats and dogs from roaming at all times.
· Insecticide powders or shampoos should be used on cats and dogs every few days while in plague areas but the effectiveness of flea-repellant collars has not been proven.
· If you hunt or trap rabbits or carnivorous wild animals such as coyotes and bobcats, protect your hands and face while skinning or handling these animals. Fresh pelts may be treated with flea powder.
· Bites from wild carnivores and from cats and dogs have caused human plague. Such animals may be infected, carry the bacteria in their mouths or may transport infective fleas.
· Cats sometimes exhibit swelling and sores around the mouth head and neck when infected. Seek professional veterinarian care for such animals and do not handle suspiciously sick pets without gloves and face protection.
· Remember the incubation period of 2-6 days and consult a physician if sudden unexplained illness occurs within that period after activities in the outdoors.
If you observe a large scale die off of prairie dogs stay out of the area and contact the Otero County Health Department at 719-383-3040. For more information on plague, access the CDPHE website at www.cdphe.state.co.us/dc/zoonosis/plague/index.html.
Prairie dogs are rodents in the squirrel family. The concern with pets and people interacting with them is that the prairie dogs may have fleas that are infected with the bacterium that causes plague. People usually get plague from being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling or skinning an infected animal such as prairie dogs, squirrels, rats, and rabbits. It may also be contracted by inhaling droplets from the cough of an infected person or animal, especially sick cats. Domestic dogs and cats can contract plague by infective fleas and they may carry infected fleas home to their owners, or serve as a direct source of infection.
Typical symptoms of plague include sudden onset of fever and chills, severe headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and a general feeling of systemic illness. Extreme pain and swelling in a lymph node draining the infection site is a suggestive symptom of bubonic plague. A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague two to six days after being infected.
Other forms of the disease include septicemic plague when the bacteria multiply within the bloodstream and pneumonic plague when the bacteria spread through the bloodstream to the lungs or are inhaled directly into the lungs. Symptoms of septicemic plague are high fever, exhaustion, light-headedness, and abdominal pain. It can rapidly result in shock and organ failure. Symptoms of pneumonic plague include high fever, chills, cough, breathing difficulty, and bloody sputum. Pneumonic plague is almost always fatal if not treated rapidly.
Treatment with antibiotics is effective during the early stages of the disease. If you develop symptoms of plague, consult a doctor or hospital emergency room immediately. About 14% of all plague cases in the United States are fatal and deaths typically result from delays in seeking treatment or misdiagnosis.