While not exactly common, the United States sees 5 or 6 human plague cases each year, almost exclusively occurring west of the Mississippi. Arizona and New Mexico, and Colorado report the vast majority of cases.
Bubonic Plague (Yersinia Pestis) is a bacterial infection transmitted by fleas, carried by infected rats. The infection generally sets up in the lymphatic system, resulting in the tell-tale buboes, or swollen lymph glands in the the groin, armpits, and neck.
Since plague is fairly easily treated with antibiotics, it isn’t much of a public health menace in the developed world. In areas where treatment isn’t readily available, however, mortality rates run 40%-60% and untreated pneumonic plague is almost always fatal.
Each year, usually during the summer months, we see warnings about plague being detected in squirrels, prairie dogs, domestic pets, and sometimes humans. This year, unusually for April, Wyoming reports having detected plague in three cats in Park County.
News from Wyoming Department of HealthPlague Confirmed in Park County Cats
Three Park County cats have recently been confirmed as infected with plague, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH). No human cases have been identified.
All three cats lived in Cody, off the South Fork Road. The illness was confirmed in the first pet by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory in Laramie on April 12, with confirmation of the third on April 20.
“Plague is a serious bacterial infection that can be deadly for pets and for people if not treated promptly with antibiotics,” said Dr. Karl Musgrave, state public health veterinarian with WDH.
“The disease can be transmitted to humans from ill animals and by fleas coming from infected animals. We want people to know of the potential threat in the area the cats were from as well as across the state. Dogs can also become ill and transmit the disease.”
“While the disease is rare in humans, it’s safe to assume that the risk for plague exists all around Wyoming,” Musgrave said. Six human cases of plague have been confirmed in Wyoming since 1978 with the last one reported in 2008. There are an average of seven human cases across the nation each year.
Precautions Musgrave recommends to help prevent plague infections include:
- · Avoid unnecessary exposure to rodents
- · Avoid contact with rodent carcasses
- · Avoid areas with unexplained rodent die-offs
- · Use insect repellent on boots and pants when in areas that might have fleas
- · Use flea repellent on pets, and properly dispose of rodents pets may bring home
Plague symptoms in animals can include enlarged lymph glands; swelling in the neck, face or around the ears; fever; chills; lack of energy; coughing; vomiting; diarrhea and dehydration. Ill animals should be taken to a veterinarian.
Plague symptoms in people can include fever, swollen and tender lymph glands, extreme exhaustion, headache, chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. People who are ill should seek professional medical attention.
More information about plague is available online from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/plague/.