HOUSTON – A squirrel in Denver has tested positive for bubonic plague, Colorado officials say.
The squirrel was found in the town of Morrison, and is the first case of plague in the county. The plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals if proper precautions are not taken, authorities say.
A release from location officials notes that humans may be infected with plague through bites from infected fleas, by the cough from an infected animal or by direct contact -- like a bite -- with blood or tissues of infected animals.
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.
Pet owners who suspect their pets are ill should consult a veterinarian. The release notes that all pet owners who live close to wild animal populations, such as prairie dog colonies or other known wildlife habitats, should consult their veterinarian about flea control for their pets to help prevent the transfer of fleas to humans.
Symptoms of plague may 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. Plague can be effectively treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult a physician.