The Bubonic Plague is alive and well in Boulder, Colorado. An archaic disease, one that few would even believe existed anymore, manifests itself in the fleas and ticks that feed on prairie dogs.
Newsteam’s Natalie Wadas investigated this phenomenon, and found out the risks and complications that it poses to humans.
According to Dr. Fern Slack, the owner of Uniquely Cats Veterinary, Bubonic Plague is a significant health problem here in Boulder and along the front range, due to the proximity of these infected prairie dog colonies to our hiking trails.
“A whole colony of infected prairie dogs will all die off in a very short time, just a few days, and that is the magic moment, the perfect storm where their fleas can come out of the burrow, hungry and will bite whatever is warm-blooded that walks by next,” said Dr. Slack.
This is especially concerning to pet owners because, while a prairie dog flea may bite a human, they are much more likely to bite a wayward dog or free-roaming cat, who may end up bringing the disease home. This is what Dr. Slack says usually spreads it to humans.
To put this into perspective, Jennifer House, the Public Health Veterinarian for Colorado, explained that in the past five years, there have been 12 human cases of Bubonic Plague, two of which were fatal. The data does not show how many of these cases were due to pet transmission, but it is a risk that both specialists note.
Additionally, Carol McInnes of the Boulder Health Department warns that even those without pets are at risk if they enjoy partaking in outdoor activities, a prerequisite for living in Boulder it would seem.
McInnes asserts that, “The amount of plague in the environment can increase if there’s a big increase in the rodent population and then theres a increased risk to humans who might travel through those areas where rodents are.”
While this disease is scary, it seems that the number one prevention mechanism, beyond treating your pets with flea and tick medication, is simply being aware that the threat is out there.
The Plague is treatable. Watch for symptoms of the virus in you and your pets such as enlarged lymph nodes, fever, and lethargic behavior in your pets. And if you suspect you or your pet have been bitten, veterinarians recommend you get tested immediately.