Plague and rabies can be spread to humans from wildlife
Wildlife-related diseases, like the plague and rabies, have not infected any humans this year, but Boulder County Public Health and Wardenburg want students to take precautions with all non-domestic creatures.
“We have no cases of either one of the diseases, rabies or plague, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” said Bob Cranny, Wardenburg health official.
Rabies, the most common disease spread from animals to humans, is most commonly found in bats with extreme consequences.
“We have incidents of bats getting into dorms, and then residents can be in danger of contracting the disease,” said Gabi Hoefler, Boulder County environmental health specialist. “Rabies, if untreated, is fatal 99 percent of the time and anyone exposed must receive the post-exposure vaccine.”
Last year, two females had been in contact with bats in the dorms and were able to trap them for rabies testing. The results came back negative.
Boulder County Public Health doesn’t want residents to panic and asks that they try to trap and contain bats.
“If the bat can be contained we are able to test it for the disease and warn the rest of the people that there can be infected bats,” Hoefler said.
The university and city ask that humans and their pets don’t play in prairie dog fields. Prairie dogs commonly carry plague due to infected fleas on their fur. Residents should also avoid feeding wild animals, like ground squirrels and rabbits.
“Pets are really at the biggest risk because they can bring home the flea that can infect the family,” Hoefler said. “We ask that you keep your pets inside and not to let them roam where they want.”
Symptoms of the plague in humans and pets include fever, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes. All dead animals should be reported to animal control immediately for testing.
“Dogs don’t tend to get the symptoms, but cats definitely do and should be taken to the vet immediately. Humans too experience these reactions and should go to the doctor,” Hoefler said. “We will make any positive tests public by posting signs and sending out press releases.”
Besides education of the public, the city of Boulder and CU have made some advances in protecting the public.
“We study prairie dog colonies to test for the plague since there was a big die-off last year, and (we) analyze different areas of the city to help eliminate the disease,” Hoefler said.
Some students do not take the threat too seriously.
“I’d say I’m more worried about contracting rabies (because) there was a recent outbreak in China,” said Emily Taxe, a senior speech, language and hearing sciences major. “I’m not really worried about the plague.”
Despite the students’ lack of worry, CU wants to publicly post some precautions to take to avoid these diseases:
1) Avoid fleas. The best protection for pets, especially cats, is to keep them indoors. Additional protection can be provided by using flea powder and keeping pets out of wild rodent habitats.
2) Stay out of areas that wild rodents inhabit. If you enter areas with wild rodents, wear insect repellant and tuck pant cuffs into socks to prevent flea bites.
3) Avoid all contact with wild rodents, including squirrels. Do not feed or handle them.
4) Never touch sick or dead animals with your bare hands. If an animal must be moved, use a long-handled shovel to place it in a garbage bag, and place the bag in an outdoor garbage can.
5) Prevent rodent infestations around your house. Clear plants and materials away from outside walls, reduce access to food items and set mousetraps.
6) See a physician if you become ill with a high fever or swollen lymph nodes.
7) See a veterinarian if your pet becomes ill with a high fever or an open sore. Pets with plague can transmit the illness to humans.
To report animal problems, or to have dead animals removed, CU-Boulder students and employees should call the Facilities Management service desk at (303) 492-5522.
For more information about wildlife-related diseases call the Boulder County Public Health hotline at (303) 441-1460 or visit www.BoulderCountyHealth.org.