Plumas County Environmental Health reported late last week that a domestic cat in eastern Plumas County has been treated for plague. Tests to confirm plague are pending from the public health laboratory in Sacramento.
Although plague naturally occurs throughout the mountainous regions of California, this report is the first sign of plague activity in Plumas County in 2011. Plumas County Environmental Health is working with the California Department of Public Health Vector-Borne Disease program and will be monitoring this situation.
Plague is a highly infectious bacterial disease which primarily affects rodents. Humans and their pets (dogs, and especially cats) can get plague if they visit areas where wild rodents are infected. Because pets with plague pose a direct threat to humans, anyone with a sick pet (especially a cat) should consult a veterinarian and report if the animal has been in a plague area.
“At the present time, there have been no cases of human plague in Plumas County. However, it is vital that the disease be diagnosed and treated in its early stages,” said Dr. Valeska Armisen, health officer for Plumas County.
In humans, the initial symptoms of plague include fever, chills, muscle aches, a feeling of weakness and, commonly, swollen and tender lymph nodes. The usual incubation period is two to six days, but people are urged to contact a physician immediately if they become ill within seven days of being in a plague-affected area. Plague is curable when diagnosed early. Patients can help with diagnosis by telling their doctor where they have been and that they may have been exposed to plague.
People can get the disease from animals in several ways. The most important route of transmission is through bites of fleas from infected rodents, but direct contact with sick or dead animals should also be avoided.
The most important wild rodents that can carry plague are ground squirrels, chipmunks, wood rats, mice and marmots. Plague is lethal to many rodents. Therefore, a sick or dead rodent is a possible warning that plague may be in the area.
While it is not uncommon to find plague in wild animals in Plumas County, no human cases have been confirmed in several years. Nonetheless, Plumas County residents and guests are urged to take the following general precautions to help prevent the spread of plague:
—Avoid all contact with rodents and their fleas.
—Residents living in areas where plague is known to occur should keep wild rodents out of their homes and outbuildings.
—Do not camp, sleep or rest near animal burrows.
—Do not feed rodents in campgrounds and picnic areas. Store food and refuse in rodent-proof containers.
—Wearing long pants tucked into boot tops can reduce exposure to fleas. Insect repellent sprayed on socks and trouser cuffs also may help.
—Do not allow pets to approach sick or dead rodents or to explore rodent burrows.For more information, visit the state Department of Public Health website at cdph.ca.gov/HealthInfo/discond/Pages/Plague.aspx or contact the local Environmental Health Department at 283-6
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