Officials in Boulder County, Colo., announced last week that a pet cat and a dead squirrel tested positive for the bubonic plague.
The cat’s owner took it to the Humane Society of Boulder Valley to be checked by veterinarians, and it was there that the presence of the bacteria was confirmed. A dead squirrel also tested positive for the plague.
Jennifer Bolser, chief veterinarian at the Humane Society clinic, said that the cat brought the dead squirrel home and likely became infected from it.
The bubonic plague is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. It begins its life cycle in a rat’s blood. When fleas feed on that blood, Y. pestis bacteria begin growing in the flea’s gut, and the disease is transmitted when an infected flea bites a new host.
In Colorado, the disease typically spread among wild rodents and other small mammals such as squirrels, rats, prairie dogs and rabbits. Household pets like cats can either get plague or carry infected fleas home to their owners.
In very rare cases, the plague can be transmitted from a sick cat to a human, but it’s much more likely that a person will contract the disease from flea bites or bites from squirrels, prairie dogs or other wild rodents.
This is the first time plague activity has been confirmed in Boulder County this season, county health officials said. It’s been six or seven years since Boulder’s humane society clinic has come across a plague case, Bolser said, although the disease does occur naturally in Colorado.
But unlike the Dark Ages, when the plague caused countless deaths and terrified two continents, the disease is easily cured with modern medicine.
“The plague, in general, is highly treatable if you can catch it and diagnose it early, and don’t ignore the symptoms,” Bolser said.
Symptoms of bubonic plague include high fever, extreme fatigue and painful swollen lymph nodes.
The cat was treated with antibiotics and did not need to be euthanized, said Humane Society of Boulder Valley spokeswoman Kim Sporrer.
“Keeping cats indoors is the best way to protect them from getting plague,” said Joe Malinowski, Boulder County Public Health Environmental Health Division Manager. “In addition, pet owners should discuss with their veterinarians the best way to protect pets from fleas.”
[Source: The Daily Camera]
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