Seven ground squirrels found south of Boise, Idaho have tested positive for plague, a bacterial disease that affects rodents. Plague can also cause serious illness in humans and pets if it is not treated promptly. The discovery has prompted Idaho Fish and Game officials to issue a warning to the public.
Rodents that can be infected include ground squirrels, rats, and mice. Plague has not been diagnosed among tree squirrels in Idaho. Plague is usually transmitted to pets who are bitten by infected fleas. Dogs and cats can also become infected with plague by hunting rodents or by playing with or eating their carcasses. Cases of plague can increase in the spring and summer because rodents are more active. Cats and dogs can experience symptoms such as fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and swelling in the lymph node under the jaw.
People can become infected if their pets have contact with rodents or fleas outdoors or bring them into the home. Owners can also contract plague if they care for a sick pet without taking proper precautions. People can reduce their risk of contracting plague by avoiding contact with wild rodents, fleas, and carcasses. People are urged not to feed wild rodents or handle sick or dead rodents. Symptoms of plague in humans include a sudden fever, chills, headache, weakness, and a painful swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin, armpit, or neck area.
If plague is diagnosed and treated early with antibiotics, the fatality rate can be significantly reduced in both humans and pets. Doctors who suspect plague should report it to the local public health department promptly.
Pets should be kept away from ground squirrels and other rodents in the area south of Boise. Pet owners should talk to their veterinarian about using flea control products. Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian, especially if they might have had contact with sick or dead rodents.
Wildlife officials recommend that homeowners clean up areas where rodents can live, such as woodpiles. Hay, wood, and compost piles should be put far away from houses. Pet food and water should not be left in areas where rodents or other wild animals could have access to them. People who find dead ground squirrels should report them to the Department of Fish and Game.