A domestic cat near Elk Meadows Open Space in Evergreen tested positive for bubonic plague in late October, officials said Monday.
Jefferson County Public Health detailed in a news release that the cat may have encountered a sick rodent. This is the first cat to be hit by plague in Jefferson County this year.
“While plague is a serious disease, and cases of animal-borne disease in domestic pets are not something we like to see, it is common and every year in Jefferson County for some animals to contract the plague. There is hope,” said Jim Rada, director of environmental health services at Jefferson County Public Health in the release. “The good news is that modern antibiotics are effective against plague, and as long as it is treated promptly, serious complications, illness, or death can be avoided.”
Plague is an infectious disease caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria. Humans and domestic animals can become vulnerable to disease if proper precautions are not taken. Some of these steps include eliminating all sources of food, shelter and access for wild animals around the home and maintaining a garbage-free yard. Officials also recommend avoiding contact with sick or dead animals, using precautions around sick pets, and talking to a veterinarian about flea control when pets are in contact.
Humans and pets can be infected with plague from flea bites if they are infected. The disease can also be spread by coughing, biting and blood of animals.
Human symptoms of plague include a sudden high fever, chills, headache, nausea, and extreme pain and swelling of the lymph nodes, occurring two to seven days after exposure. Unlike in antiquity, when the disease often caused death, plague can now be effectively treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early.
“The bottom line is that people – and their pets – should avoid contact with any species of wild rodent, especially those that are sick, dying or have already died,” 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.”