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Bubonic Plague

Bubonic Plague has been a reality in western states for many years. Occasionally, the news will mention a colony of prairie dogs infested with the type of fleas that carry the Plague. It has always been a concern for ranchers and farmers, but most urban dwellers never needed to be concerned about this devastating illness.

Recently this disease has shown up in City Park, a park just east of the Capital, and at the Denver Zoo. It has been reported that one rabbit, fifteen squirrels, a capuchin monkey, and one domestic cat have succumbed to the Black Death in or around these areas of metropolitan Denver.

Small mammals have not been the only victims of this ancient disease. Fifty-eight humans have contracted Bubonic Plague since 1957. Nine of those people did not recover. Since that time there have been hundreds of reported cases of prairie dogs dying from The Plague, usually in the summer months.

The Plague is transmitted by flees that carry the disease. It can also be transmitted by an infected animal or person coughing or by being scratched or bitten by an infected animal. In the case of the capuchin money, health officials suspect that she ate an infected squirrel.

Bubonic Plague incubates for two to six days before showing signs of infection. Symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, headache, muscle pain, and eventually swelling in the lymph notes. Advanced symptoms include blackened and swollen lymph nodes and most victims suffer from a respiratory infection which causes them to cough, further spreading the disease.

Prairie dogs and squirrels are the most prevalent carriers of these flees. In developed areas, it is suggested that people refrain from feeding squirrels. Inspect your yard before allowing your pets outside for any sick or deceased animals, especially squirrels. Keep your pets in doors if prairie dogs or squirrel populations are a problem in your area. Remember, if you are in the habit of relocating squirrels, do so only in the spring, because they give birth in the fall. A hungry kitten (baby squirrel), without a mother, is more likely to be caught by your pet.

Treat pets for fleas. Colorado has never had a problems with flea infestations like more humid areas, but now might be a good time to begin a regime for treating fleas. Not only can they become sick from contact with an infected rodent, but dogs and cats can carry the contaminated fleas into the home.

If you suspect that your pet has come in contact with an infected rodent, take precautions. Many people who have contracted The Plague caught it from their infected cat or dog. Survival is greatest for both pets and humans if medical help is sought immediately.

It is not recommended to handle sick or dead rodents. Call your local health authorities if you find a dead animal. If you have to remove a dead rodent from your living space, use gloves and spray yourself down with insecticide first.

It is highly unlikely that you or your pets will contract Bubonic Plague. Considering the squirrel population on the Front Range is probably in the tens of millions or more, the chance of the squirrels around you home being infested with Plague-carrying fleas is slim. Understanding the threat and knowing the warning signs offers another layer of protection against a devastating illness.

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