EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A squirrel in Colorado tested positive for plague last week. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says it was in El Paso County.

CDPHE sent out a news release on Tuesday about the situation and included a reminder that the discovery of plague in wild rodent populations at this time of year isn’t uncommon.

“While we see most plague activity during the summer, the disease can be found in rodents year-round and sometimes spills over into other wildlife species as well as domestic cats and dogs,” Dr. Jennifer House, the state’s public health veterinarian, said.

Humans can also be infected by the plague. It is treatable with strong antibiotics, but it’s still best to be cautious in order to avoid getting it. Humans can be infected through bites from infected fleas or by indirect exposure, such as cough, or direct exposure — like a bite — from an infected animal. An infected person or animal can suffer from high fever, chills, headache, nausea and swelling of lymph nodes. The symptoms show up within two to seven days after exposure.

The CDPHE says two human cases of plague were reported in Colorado last year and both patients survived. Both people had exposure to sick animals.

Plague has been present in Colorado for at least 80 years.

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The following actions can be taken to protect you and your pets from plague, according to the CDPHE:

– Don’t directly handle wildlife.
– Keep pets away from dead rodents and rabbits.
– Dogs and cats should be prevented from hunting prairie dogs, other rodents, or rabbits.
– Follow a veterinarian’s advice for treatment of fleas if a pet has a case of them.
– Feeding wildlife, other than birds, is a big no-no. It attracts the animals to your property, bringing them in close contact where disease transmission is more likely.

Health officials urge the public to call their offices if they believe an animal might be infected, or if they witness sudden die-offs of numerous wild animals, which could be a sign that the plague is present and spreading.

Jesse Sarles