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Plague suspected in squirrels found dead in two Colorado Springs neighborhoods

Squirrel in Colorado tests positive for bubonic plague
Posted at 3:29 PM, May 14, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS — El Paso County Public Health (EPCPH) announced Friday that plague is suspected in squirrels in two Colorado Springs neighborhoods.

This announcement comes after multiple squirrels were found dead in the Patty Jewett and Divine Redeemer neighborhoods in central Colorado Springs.

The health department said it's not uncommon for plague to be present this time of year and taking simple precautions can lower the risk of transmission to humans.

“We want to alert people to the fact that wild rodents and other small mammals in this area may be infected with plague, which is more common during cooler summers after wet winters,” said Haley Zachary, communicable disease program manager for El Paso County Public Health. “By taking simple preventive measures, residents can help protect themselves and their pets.”

Test results for the squirrels are currently pending confirmation at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory. Results are expected soon.

According to EPCPH, plague is an infectious disease that is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected flea but also may be transmitted by infected animal tissues, fluids, or respiratory droplets. People with direct exposure to fleas or wildlife in the affected areas may be at risk. People who think they have been exposed should contact a health care provider immediately.

Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, chills, weakness, and tender, painful lymph nodes. If caught early, it can be successfully treated with antibiotics in both people and pets, the health department said.

People should take the following precautions to protect themselves and their pets:

  • Do not directly handle any wildlife
  • Keep pets away from wildlife, especially dead rodents and rabbits
  • Don’t let dogs or cats hunt prairie dogs, other rodents, or rabbits
  • Don’t allow pets to roam freely
  • Treat all pets for fleas according to a veterinarian’s advice
  • Do not feed wildlife—this attracts them to your property, brings them in close contact, and increases the risk of disease transmission
  • Be aware of rodent and rabbit populations in your area and report sudden die-offs or multiple dead animals to El Paso County Public Health at (719) 578-3220.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website or El Paso County Public Health’s website.