Squirrels in the US have tested positive for bubonic plague - but here’s why you don’t need to worry

Thursday, 16th July 2020, 12:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th July 2020, 12:31 pm
You don't have to worry about bubonic plague carrying squirrels quite yet (Photo: Shutterstock)
You don't have to worry about bubonic plague carrying squirrels quite yet (Photo: Shutterstock)

Authorities in the US state of Colorado have issued a health alert after a squirrel there tested positive for the bubonic plague.

It was described as the first case of plague found in the country this year.

Though it might sound scary, you probably don’t need to worry about squirrels with bubonic plague just yet. Here’s why.

What have authorities said?

A public health statement said that the squirrel was found in Morrison on Saturday, around 17 miles southwest of Denver.

The Jefferson County public health department said that the threat was low to those who took precautions - which includes avoiding contact with wild animals.

The health department said in a statement, “Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals.

“However, if proper precautions are taken, the risk of getting plague is extremely low.”

What precautions can be taken against the bubonic plague?

The Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) recommends the following precautions that can be taken to protect you and your pets from plague.

It explains that the risk for getting plague is “extremely low” as long as these precautions are taken:

  • Eliminate all sources of food, shelter and access for wild animals around the home
  • Do not feed wild animals
  • Maintain a litter and trash free garden to reduce wild animal habitats
  • Avoid contact with sick or dead wild animals and rodents - this includes making sure your pets avoid contact as well
  • Have any sick pets examined by a vet
  • Consult with a vet about flea and tick control for your pets
  • Keep pets from roaming around outside unsupervised as they may come into contact with wild animals and bring the disease into the home

What are the symptoms of bubonic plague?

The JCPH states that symptoms of plague can include the following:

  • Sudden onset of high fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes

Should I be worried about bubonic plague?

While the bubonic plague sounds pretty worrisome, it’s much more treatable now than it was in the past. The JCPH says that the plague can be effectively treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early.

Health authorities in China also identified a new case of bubonic plague on 5 July, which was found in the northern city of Bayannur.

However, the disease is extremely rare and, Healthline explains that, unlike Covid-19, the world has clear and effective treatments for the bubonic plague which means that there is no real way we’d see a bubonic plague pandemic play out the same way it did in the 14th century.

Dr Shanthi Kappagoda told Healthline, “Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted.

“We know how to prevent it - avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where this is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick.”