A squirrel has tested positive for the bubonic plague in Jefferson County, Colorado, local public health officials have confirmed, while also noting that the risk of humans catching the disease is minimal, and even for those who contract the disease, it’s not nearly as fatal as it once was.
Officials from Jefferson County Public Health confirmed the discovery via a statement released to the public on Sunday.
“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,” said JCPH officials.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, humans most commonly contract the plague from an infected flea bite, although people can also become infected from direct contact while handling an animal that has died from the disease.
County health officials assert that the risk for getting plague is extremely low as long as proper precautions are taken.
Patients with the plague typically develop sudden onset of fever, headache, chills and weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes, according to CDC data.
Jefferson County Public Health said that cats are highly susceptible to the plague, while dogs are not as susceptible but may pick up and carry plague-infected rodent fleas.
According to the CDC, the plague was first introduced into the United States in 1900. Between 1900 and 2012, 1,006 cases of confirmed or probable human plague cases were detected. In recent decades, an average of seven human plague cases are reported in the U.S. each year. Between 1,000 and 2,000 cases are reported worldwide to the World Health Organization annually. Due to the effectiveness of antibiotics, the overall mortality rate among those infected with plague in the U.S. has decreased to approximately 11%.
In China’s Inner Mongolia region, local health authorities announced that they had uncovered a suspected positive case of bubonic plague last week after a farmer was hospitalized. Reuters reported that four suspected cases of plague were discovered in Inner Mongolia last November. A Mongolian couple died from the bubonic plague after eating raw marmot meat last year.