Plague Found in Valley Fox

Plague Found in Valley Fox

Open Space Staff were recently contacted by the Jefferson County Public Health Department to report that a dead fox, which was collected from a residence in the Valley in late April, has tested positive for plague. 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, but people should be aware that summer marks the beginning of the plague season and just a few simple precautions will further reduce that risk. When plague appears in an area, there is usually a die-off of the 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. Less commonly, people are infected by direct contact (i.e. through a bite) with blood or tissues of infected animals.

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.

The following precautions should 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) 384-8045.
  • 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.

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.

Ken-Caryl Ranch Open Space Staff will continue its plague surveillance of rodent populations in open space. Citizens are requested to report any unusual rodent die-offs to Jefferson County Animal Control 303-271-5070.

For more information, visit the Jefferson County Public Health website at http://jeffco.us/public-health/.

1 Comment

  1. Ellen Kessler

    Thank you for an honest and truthful education about plague. People seem to immediately point the finger at prairie dogs, but they are victims too. And telling the reader that it’s treatable should hopefully remove the “sky is falling” mentality of those who don’t educate themselves about the plague.

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