Plague infection was recently confirmed in a northeastern Wyoming prairie dog, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH). No human cases have been identified.
The infected prairie dog was discovered in the Converse County area of the Thunder Basin National Grassland. The infection was confirmed by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory. Local U.S. Forest Service personnel have also described seeing signs of significant prairie dog die-offs.
“Plague is a serious bacterial infection that can be deadly for people and for animals, including pets, if not treated promptly with antibiotics,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state epidemiologist and acting state health officer with WDH. “The disease can be transmitted to humans from ill animals and by fleas coming from infected animals.”
“While human plague infections are thankfully rare, we expect the risk for plague exists all around Wyoming,” Harrist said. Six human cases of plague have been confirmed with exposures in Wyoming since 1978; the last one was reported in 2008. There are an average of seven human cases across the nation each year.
Recommended precautions to help prevent plague infections include:
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to rodents
- Avoid contact with rodent carcasses
- Avoid areas with unexplained rodent die-offs
- Use insect repellent on boots and pants when in areas that might have fleas
- Use flea control products for pets, and properly dispose of rodents pets may bring home
Plague symptoms in people can include fever, swollen and tender lymph glands, extreme exhaustion, headache, chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. People who are ill should seek professional medical help.
Plague symptoms in animals can include enlarged lymph glands; swelling in the neck, face or around the ears; fever; chills; lack of energy; coughing; vomiting; diarrhea and dehydration. Ill animals should be taken to a veterinarian.
More information about plague is available from WDH at https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/infectious-disease-epidemiology-unit/disease/plague/ or from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/plague/.