Bubonic Plague: Squirrel in Colorado tests positive
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Colorado health authorities have raised an alarm after the plague was confirmed in six counties across the US state, according to lab results from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Citizens are being urged to be careful around animals after the plague was found in mammals and fleas from six counties, according to The Denver Post.
This investigation comes following the death of a 10-year-old girl earlier this month who lived in La Plata County in southwestern Colorado.
The schoolgirl is the first person to have died from the disease in the state since 2015 and is the 21st human case in Colorado since 2005.
A letter by a county youth official read: “She was raising hogs in 4-H this year and has just finished playing softball.
“She had a most beautiful smile and was so very sweet!”
The plague is caused by bacteria and is usually transmitted by bites from infected fleas.
Prairie dogs, squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents often carry the fleas and become infected themselves.
The health department warned people should avoid getting close to these animals.
State veterinarian Dr Jennifer House said in a statement: “We are so sad for the loss of this young Coloradan and our deepest condolences go to the family.
“Public Health is doing an epidemiological investigation and wants Coloradans to know that while this disease is very rare, it does occur sometimes, and to seek medical care if you have symptoms.”
Dr House said the plague has been present in Colorado since the 1940s, with most cases reported in wild rodents in the state.
She said the disease can be found year-round and can often spill over into other wildlife species as well as domestic cats and dogs.
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The state reported 22 cases of the plague between 2005 to 2020 with nine of these cases in La Plata County.
According to Denver Public Health, antibiotics are highly effective against the disease.
However, they should be administered within 24 hours of the first symptoms as infection can cause “serious illness or death”.
Most symptoms are similar to the common flu such as a fever, chills, headache, weaknesses, and a cough.
Infection also leads to tender or swollen lymph nodes and discolouration of the skin.
Those infected may require “immediate, intensive care”.
According to reports, those living in the western US – including Colorado – are most at risk of catching the disease.
Between 2005 to 2021, 568 animals tested positive for the plague in Colorado, including 104 cats and dogs.
Back in May, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urged residents to take precautions after a squirrel was found to be infected in El Paso County.
Dr House continued: “We can honestly see plague in most locations.
“The majority of our positive animals come from more rural areas, but we have seen plague approaching the metro area.
“While it is rare for people to contract the plague, we want to make sure everyone knows the symptoms.
“The disease is treatable if caught early.”
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