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Posted on: November 8, 2021

Cat with Plague Found in Jefferson County — Take Care to Prevent Human and Pet Exposure to Rodents

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Jefferson County, Colo. — On Friday, October 29, 2021, a domestic cat in Evergreen, near Bergen Mountain Road and Stagecoach Boulevard and close to Elk Meadows Open Space, tested positive for bubonic plague. The cat is the first case of plague in the county this year and is suspected to have been infected from an encounter with a sick rodent, possibly a rat. Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals if proper precautions are not taken.  

“While plague is a serious disease, and cases of animal-borne disease in household pets is never something we like to see, it is normal and expected for some animals to contract plague in Jefferson County each year,” said Jim Rada, Director of Environmental Health Services at Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH). “The good news is that modern antibiotics are effective against plague, and as long as it is treated promptly, severe complications, illness or death can be avoided. 

Humans and pets may be infected with plague through bites from infected fleas, by the cough from an infected animal or by direct contact (i.e. through a bite) with blood or tissues of infected animals. Both cats and dogs may also come into contact with plague through ingestion of a rodent or by picking up and carrying infected or deceased rodents in their mouth. Cats are more susceptible to plague and may die if not treated promptly with antibiotics. While dogs are not as susceptible, they can be infected. 

Symptoms of plague in people may include sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes, occurring two to seven days after exposure. Plague can be effectively treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult a physician. Familiarize yourself with the full list of plague symptoms in cats and dogs, and if you’re concerned your pet may have been exposed to plague, consult your veterinarian.  

“The bottom line is people — and their pets — should avoid contact with any species of wild rodent, especially ones that are sick, dying or already dead,” Rada said. “We know that pets can be unpredictable, but there are things pet owners can do to keep their four-legged family members safe, especially when they live close to rodent populations such as prairie dog colonies.”

JCPH recommends the following precautions be taken to protect yourself and your pets from plague. Risk for contracting plague is extremely low if precautions are taken.

  • Eliminate all sources of food, shelter and access for wild animals around the home.
  • Do not feed wild animals.
  • Maintain a litter and trash-free yard to reduce wild animal habitats.
  • Avoid contact with sick or dead wild animals and rodents.
  • Use precaution when handling sick pets. Have sick pets examined by a veterinarian.
  • 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. 
    • Do not let dogs off leash in the wild or in parks and open spaces. 
    • Whenever possible, keep cats indoors and do not let them free-roam the neighborhood. 

 To learn more about animal-borne diseases in Jefferson County, including bubonic plague, please visit www.jeffco.us/2363.

About Jefferson County Public Health

Public health is what we as a society do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is a nationally accredited health department committed to promoting and protecting health across the lifespan for all people through prevention, education and partnerships. To learn more about JCPH visit https://www.jeffco.us/public-health. You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH, Instagram @JeffcoPH and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth.

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