DELTA, COLORADO – A feral cat who tested positive for bubonic plague last weekend has prompted Delta County officials to now warn residents to take steps to protect themselves from the disease and to be on the lookout for symptoms.
The cat, which was found on Hanson Road nearby to Cedaredge, is the first confirmed case of plague reported in Delta County in more than ten years, said Kenneth Nordstrom, the county health department’s director of environmental health. He stated he expects the disease to “cycle through” more animals in the area in the near future.
“It runs through the wild animal population and really thins out that population, so the stronger animals survive,” Nordstrom stated. “The main thing is people in that area need to be aware that plague is circulating and we do not want any human cases.”
Plague — which can take several different forms — occurs naturally in Colorado and is quite often transmitted by fleas that tend to bite small wild mammals, according to information from Nordstrom’s department. Officials recommend that residents:
■ Protect your pets from fleas.
■ Keep your pets on leashes and away from wild rodent habitats.
■ Avoid any and all contact with wild rodents themselves.
■ Wear insect repellent and tuck in your pant cuffs when walking near areas with wild rodents.
■ Avoid touching sickly or dead animals.
■ Prevent rodents living around homes by clearing out plants and materials away from outside walls, preventing access to pet food and trash, and setting traps.
Residents may also be on the lookout for symptoms in their pets, Nordstrom said. Cats infected with bubonic plague show symptoms including a fever of more than 100 degrees, lethargy, anorexia and swollen lymph nodes. Dogs may also contract the plague, but tend not to show such severe symptoms, he said.
Human symptoms of bubonic plague include these: sudden high fever, extreme fatigue, and occasionally painful swollen lymph nodes called buboes. About half of any infected humans also can have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or abdominal pain.
Humans and animals may be treated with antibiotics, which are more effective when administered early, according to Nordstrom, who advised people who are infected or who have infected pets to seek medical or veterinary care immediately. Plague may even be fatal when untreated.
In the case of the Delta County feral cat, residents who live near Cedaredge who had been feeding the animal noticed it looked lethargic and had pustules on its body, according to Nordstrom. It was immediately taken to Surface Creek Veterinary Center.
A lab found that the cat was positive for plague and negative for tularemia, another disease which impacts animals and humans. The cat’s case of plague was advanced, Nordstrom said.
“The cat could have been treated, but … it was a mean feral cat, so they euthanized it,” he stated.