Apr 21, 2016

Plague found in three South Fork area cats

Three Cody area cats recently became infected with plague, the Wyoming Department of Health announced on Thursday.

All three of the cats lived off the South Fork Road, the department said in a news release. There are no reports of people being infected.

The Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory confirmed the first case of plague on April 12 and confirmed the third on Wednesday.

This graphic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how plague can spread from infected fleas and rodents to other animals and people.
Plague is a serious bacterial infection and can be deadly for people or animals if not treated promptly with antibiotics, said State Public Health Veterinarian Karl Musgrave. As of Thursday, two of the infected cats had died.

The bacteria can be spread to humans by sick animals or by fleas that have fed on sick animals.

“We want people to know of the potential threat in the area the cats were from as well as across the state. Dogs can also become ill and transmit the disease,” Musgrave said in Thursday's release. “While the disease is rare in humans, it’s safe to assume that the risk for plague exists all around Wyoming.”

Several house cats in the southeastern part of the state became infected with plague in 2005 and another case was confirmed in the rural, western part of Laramie County last October. In this northwestern part of the state, four mountain lions in the Greater Yellowstone Area/Teton County were confirmed to have died of plague between 2005 and 2006, according to past Reuters and Associated Press reports.

Since 1978, six people have been infected with plague in Wyoming. The most recent case was in 2008, when a Boy Scout became ill after visiting Yellowstone National Park and parts of Teton County.

“It’s kind of always around and actual cases in humans are quite rare, but it’s possible,” said Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health. “So we want to find that balance between providing that education to remind people it’s something they need to consider — and perhaps in that (South Fork) area they want to look at it a little more closely — but also not pull a panic alarm here.”

The health department did not specify the exact area on the South Fork where the infected cats lived, in part because “we don’t want people to think it may only be in one area,” Deti said.

Musgrave recommends taking the following precautions to help prevent plague infections:

  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to rodents
  • Avoid contact with rodent carcasses
  • Avoid areas with unexplained rodent die-offs
  • Use insect repellent on boots and pants when in areas that might have fleas
  • Use flea repellent on pets, and properly dispose of rodents that pets may bring home

The disease is basically the same one responsible for the “Black Death” that ravaged Europe in the 1300s — with the difference being that modern medicine has brought methods for limiting its spread and treating it. For example, only 10 cases of plague were reported in the United States in 2014 and all of those patients recovered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plague symptoms in animals can include enlarged lymph glands; swelling in the neck, face or around the ears; fever; chills; lack of energy; coughing; vomiting; diarrhea and dehydration. Ill animals should be taken to a veterinarian, the Department of Health said.

Plague symptoms in people can include fever, swollen and tender lymph glands, extreme exhaustion, headache, chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. The health department said people who are ill should seek professional medical attention.

More information about plague is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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