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The original item was published from 4/15/2010 2:07:46 PM to 7/13/2010 4:23:52 PM.

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News and Announcements

Posted on: April 15, 2010

[ARCHIVED] Plague confirmed in Castle Rock squirrels

The Tri-County Health Department has confirmed two cases of plague in dead squirrels found in the area of Third Street and Hillside Drive in Castle Rock.

"Castle Rock workers and residents are being warned to protect themselves and their pets from exposure to rodents that may carry fleas,” said Dr. Richard L. Vogt, executive director of the Tri-County Health Department. “Fortunately, the risk of human infection is very low as long as people take appropriate precautions.”

There have been no reports of human plague cases in Colorado in 2010.

Plague is a bacterial disease spread by fleas that live on rodents such as prairie dogs, squirrels and rabbits. Infected rodents become sick and die.

When large populations of rodents die, the fleas must find another host animal, such as humans or pets. If no other host is available, the fleas die off naturally.

People should keep themselves and their pets away from any sick or dead squirrel and call the Castle Rock office of the Tri-County Health Department, 303-663-7650, to report the location and to ask if the dead animal needs to be saved for testing. If not, it is best to place the dead animal in a double plastic bag using gloves or a shovel to minimize any risk of exposure to fleas and discard it in a covered outdoor trash bin.

People can take simple precautions to prevent exposure such as never feeding squirrels and other wild animals; avoiding all contact with rodents; treating pets with flea-prevention products; keeping pets on a leash and out of wild rodent habitats; avoiding sick or dead animals; wearing long pants tucked into socks when hiking or in wild rodent areas; using insect repellent with DEET; eliminating household rodent infestations; and discouraging hunting by pet cats.

Plague in humans is treated with antibiotics, but treatment is most effective when the illness is diagnosed early. Symptoms usually occur two to six days after being bitten by an infected flea. Symptoms include fever, swollen and tender lymph nodes, chills and extreme exhaustion. People who have been bitten by fleas or had contact with dead rodents and have these symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately, because the illness can progress quickly.

Dogs that are exposed to plague do not usually get sick but can transport the fleas. Cats that have been infected become ill with a high fever, an open sore or respiratory symptoms. Sick cats also can spread the disease to people who handle them. Cats can be successfully treated by a veterinarian if seen promptly.

For more information on plague or to report a dead squirrel, call the Tri-County Health Department, 303-663-7650.

More plague information
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