Nov 082004
Authors: James Baetke

Local health officials have found evidence that the plague and

tularemia have been found in dead animals and pets and are alerting

the public to use preventative measures to avoid the diseases.

Two pet cats have been diagnosed with the plague in the past two

weeks, and a woman died from the plague while visiting the Red

Feather Lakes area in August.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have jointly been

working with the Larimer County Department of Health and

Environment in monitoring the plague and other infectious


“Plague has always been endemic to this area,” said LeeAnn

Kempton, an environmental specialist at the health and environment


So far, four feline plague cases have been reported this year.

In 1999, a women died from the plague in the same area that this

year’s human case occurred.

Ann Watson, public information specialist with the health and

environment department, said it is rare to find humans infected

with the plague and said those people that are infected come from

contact with their pets.

“Most of our human cases come from cats. We have had so few

cases it is hard to make generalizations,” Watson said.

Cats and other animals can be infected with the plague when they

kill and eat infected rodents that are riddled with infected fleas.

From that point, pets can transmit the disease to humans through

bites, scratches or droplets from their coughs. The bacteria can

also be transmitted via the infected fleas themselves, which pets

can also bring into domesticated areas.

Bubonic plague, the more common form of the plague, occurs when

extreme pain and swelling of the lymph nodes strikes a victim. The

groin and armpit region are the most common flea bite locations in

humans, according to a press release from the health and

environment department.

The bubonic plague is not transmitted person-to-person, but it

can spread to the lungs to form pneumonic plague, and the victim’s

close contacts can be infected.

Though the plague may be rare in humans, rodent populations

carry it often, such as in mice or rats, Kempton said.

Another recent bacteria, tularmeria, has been traced in Larimer

County in a dead beaver and mouse. A man from Loveland was struck

with pneumonia caused by tularmeria in August.

Tularmeria is another rare occurrence found in Larimer County

and infects humans who handle infected animals such as rodents or

rabbits or humans who are bit by infected insects, especially ticks

and deer flies.

Tularmeria is a bacterial disease that can affect humans or

animals from insects that have the disease.

Health officials say to take precautions to prevent infections

from these diseases. Using insect repellents, avoiding sick or dead

rodents, keeping pets leashed while camping or hiking, and keeping

close attention to a pet’s health are all preventative


Adrienne LeBaily, the county’s heath department director, said,

“Although these bacteria are potential bioterror agents, we are

convinced that these human cases were naturally occurring.”

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