GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4)– A squirrel in Golden tested positive for the plague and the public is on alert.

Jefferson County Public Health told CBS4 the squirrel was located at 15th and Jackson and tested positive for bubonic plague.

Postings were placed around the area on Saturday with information reminding citizens to take simple precautions to avoid exposure.

Public health officials in Jefferson County said they felt comfortable with allowing Buffalo Bill Days to proceed as planned with the advisory to be aware.

The health department states that the “plague is a highly infectious bacterial disease carried by various types of wild rodents and is transmitted primarily by flea bites. Squirrels, rodents, prairie dogs and other mammals, such as rabbits and cats are susceptible to plague because they carry fleas.”

“The risk of residents contracting plague is extremely low,” said Jefferson County Public Health Director Dr. Mark Johnson in a statement. “We want people to be aware that summer marks the beginning of the plague season and just a few simple precautions will further reduce that risk.”

They also said when plague appears in an area, there is usually a die-off of rodents and rabbits. When the animal dies the fleas leave to find another host thus spreading the disease. Most human plague cases result from infected flea bites. People can be infected by direct contact with blood or tissues of infected animals but that is less common.

Jeffco Public Health and the City of Golden Animal Control have teamed up to investigate the cases and determine the extent of the die-off in the area.

Additional Information from Jeffco Public Health:

Prevention  

The best way to prevent plague is to control the presence of rodents and fleas in and around the home. In addition, people should avoid contact with any species of wild rodents, especially sick or dead rodents. If a dead rodent is found, do not handle the animal directly, use gloves and place it in a plastic bag.

Dogs and cats should be confined so they cannot prey on infected rodents and then bring the disease home with them. Pet owners who live close to rodent populations should use flea control products recommended by their veterinarian. Controlling fleas on pets will prevent the transfer of fleas to humans. If these reasonable precautions are taken, the probability of contracting plague is extremely low.

Recommendations and Precautions

JCPH recommends that the following precautions be taken to protect yourself and your pets from plague:

  • Do not handle or feed squirrels and/or wild animals.
  • If a sick or dead pet is found, contact Animal Control immediately at (303) 384-8000.
  • People and pets should avoid contact with sick or dead wild animals and rodents.
  • Eliminate all sources of food, shelter, and access for wild animals around the home.
  • Maintain a litter and trash-free yard to reduce wild animal habitat.
  • Consult with your veterinarian about flea and tick control for your pets.
  • Keep pets from roaming freely outside the home where they may prey on wild animals and bring the disease home with them.

Symptoms

Plague is easily treated in humans with antibiotics when recognized early. Two to six days after being infected with plague, people become ill with the following symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of high fever.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Malaise, or a general feeling of being ill.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult a physician immediately.

Jefferson County Public Health will continue its plague surveillance of rodent populations in the County.  Citizens are requested to report any unusual rodent die-offs to City of Golden Animal Control 303-384-8045.

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