Denver Direct: Plague in Denver – City Park Squirrels Infected
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Written by Staff (www.NorthDenverNews.com)
Friday, 27 April 2007
DENVER–State health officials Thursday confirmed that plague has been found in a dead tree squirrel in the vicinity of City Park. A citizen had noticed a die-off of squirrels in the neighborhood and reported it to Denver Animal Control. A carcass was collected Wednesday and tested at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment laboratory where preliminary tests were positive for plague.
John Pape, an epidemiologist who specializes in animal-related diseases for the department’s Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division, said, “Plague is a disease seen every year among rodent populations in rural areas of Colorado, including the Front Range. It is unusual to find plague in the center of an urban area although it has happened before.” In Colorado, plague-infected animals are most likely found in the foothills and mountains, he added.
According to Pape, “Plague is a bacteria that is maintained in various species of rodents and rabbits and transmitted by fleas. When an infected rodent becomes sick and dies, its fleas can carry the infection to other warm-blooded animals, including humans. People also can be exposed through direct contact with infected rodents, rabbits and cats.”
“The risk of Denver residents contracting plague is extremely low,” said Denver Public Health Director Dr. Chris Urbina. “We want people to be aware of what to look for and take a few simple precautions to further reduce that risk.” He indicated that Denver Health, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Denver Environmental Health are working together to investigate the case and to determine the extent of the die-off in the area.
When plague appears in an area, there is usually a die-off of the rodents and rabbits. When the animal dies, the fleas leave the carcass to find another host thus spreading the disease. Most human plague cases result from infected fleabites. Less commonly, people are infected by direct contact with blood from an infected animal or from cats which can become infected and transmit the disease.
People should not directly handle any dead rodents they find and should keep their pets away from them. If a dead rodent is found, do not handle the animal directly. Use gloves and place in a plastic bag. Contact CO-HELP (Colorado Health Education Line for the Public) at 1-877-462-2911 to report a dead rodent or rabbit.
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