In the United States, $9 billion is spent annually controlling fleas. And for good reason.
A domestic cat in the rural area of Weld County began showing signs of illness at the beginning of June. Concerned after the cat failed to recover after two weeks, the owner brought the animal to the veterinarian where it was tested positive.
While rare, plague can be passed on through infected fleas and ticks, which is why health officials are reminding residents to keep their pets safe and to keep fleas under control.
“The presence of plague reminds residents to keep fleas off pets and use appropriate flea control products,” said Mark E. Wallace, Executive Director of the Weld County Health Department, in a release to 9 News. “It’s good practice to use an insect repellant if you will be working, playing or camping in areas where fleas may be present.”
According to Greeley health officials, the cat is expected to recover and the owner is taking preventative antibiotics. However, the incident isn’t isolated only to Colorado. In New Mexico, according to the Smithsonian, three people have been infected with plague after contracting the disease from their household pets.
All three of the patients have been released after seeking successful treatment, but the reminder recalls the epidemics of history’s past. The Smithsonian notes:
“Plague is commonly associated with the bubonic variety that wiped out an estimated 25 million people during the Black Death pandemic in the 1340s and that swept through other populations during the Medieval Era. But bubonic plague is only one of human plague’s permutations — none of which have been eradicated. Each type has slightly different symptoms. Bubonic plague concentrates in the lymph nodes. Septicemic plague includes bleeding beneath the skin. And pneumonic plague causes respiratory problems.”
According to the Smithsonian, the plague-spreading bacteria known as Yersinia pestis is carried by the fleas that live on rats, mice, squirrels, and prairie dogs. As fleas pass on to other animals such as domestic cats who hunt mice, the disease can affect household pets and their human owners.
As a preventative measure, the Department of Public Health and Environment recommends the following tips to keep you, your family, and your pets safe from Y. pestis and the fleas that carry it:
- Do not touch, handle, or feed wild animals
- Do not allow household animals that you let hunt or wander outside to sleep in your bed
- Apply flea control products to your pets
- Stay away from wild rodents and sanitize your hands after caring for domesticated rodents
- Keep your home or living area free of garbage and clutter that may otherwise welcome rodent habitation around your house
“With all three cases under control and only a handful of cases in the United States each year,” reports the Smithsonian, “there’s little reason to fear a widespread outbreak anytime soon.”
Animal plague, on the other hand, has taken the lives of 16 household pets this year alone. To keep your pets safe and healthy, use flea control and be wary of high-grassed areas where fleas and ticks could jump onto your pet’s fur.