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Prairie dog tests positive for plague in La Plata County

No known human exposure to the rodent, its colony or fleas in the area

A prairie dog in the Hesperus-Breen area has tested positive for plague.

Fleas from the prairie dog’s colony have been collected and sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for further testing, according to a news release from San Juan Basin Public Health. There is no known human exposure to the prairie dog, its colony or any fleas in the area. Signs will be posted in the area where the positive prairie dog was collected.

SJBPH reminds residents that the risk of contracting plague increases during the summer when humans and animals are more often in close contact.

Plague is frequently detected in rock squirrels, prairie dogs, wood rats, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles and rabbits. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

According to SJBPH, some ways to prevent contact with animal-borne illnesses include:

  • Reduce rodent habitat around your home, workplace and recreational areas by removing brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood and possible rodent food supplies, such as pet and wild animal food.
  • Make your home and outbuildings rodent-proof.
  • Wear gloves if you are handling or skinning potentially infected animals to prevent contact between your skin and the plague bacteria. Contact your local health department if you have questions about disposal of dead animals.
  • Use repellent if you think you could be exposed to rodent fleas during activities such as camping, hiking or working outdoors.
  • Keep fleas off roaming pets by applying flea-control products. If your pet becomes sick, seek care from a veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free in endemic areas to sleep on your bed.
  • Be sure your children are aware of these precautions and know to tell an adult if they have had contact with a wild animal.

Plague is caused by bacteria called Yersinia pestis, which can be transmitted to humans by the bites of infected fleas or by contact with infected animals.

Plague is frequently detected in rock squirrels, prairie dogs, wood rats, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles and rabbits. SJBPH investigates prairie dog population die-offs for the presence of plague. If an active colony of prairie dogs suddenly disappears, report it to SJBPH.

To learn more about plague and its symptoms, visit https://www.cdc.gov/plague/symptoms/index.html.

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