Squirrel tests positive for bubonic plague in Colorado

A squirrel found in a Colorado town tested positive for bubonic plague, county health officials said. 

Jefferson County health officials said in a statement Sunday that a squirrel found in the town of Morrison, which is just west of Denver, tested positive for the bubonic plague on Saturday. 

Health officials warned that the bubonic plague can be contracted by humans and household animals if “proper precautions” are not taken. 

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The county is recommending the public eliminate all sources of food, shelter and access for wild animals around their homes. The public is also urged not feed wild animals, maintain litter- and trash-free yards to reduce wild animal habitats and avoid contact with sick or dead wild animals and rodents. 

Humans may be infected with the plague through bites from infected fleas or by direct contact with blood or tissue of infected animals. Cats are highly susceptible to plague and may die if not promptly treated with antibiotics. While dogs are not as susceptible, they can pick up and carry plague-infected rodent fleas, according to health officials.

Jefferson County health officials also recommended keeping pets from roaming freely outside homes, noting they may prey on wild animals and bring the disease home with them. 

The squirrel is the first case of plague in the county this year, officials said. 

Bubonic plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. 

An average of seven human plague cases have been reported in the U.S. each year, a range of one to 17 cases per year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 1970 to 2018.

A herdsman in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with a case of bubonic plague, local health officials said last month.

—Updated at 6:15 p.m.