Laboratory testing has recently confirmed a rural Albany County cat died of plague, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).
The cat’s home was in the Laramie area and the animal lived primarily outdoors or in outbuildings. Other cats in a group at the same location have also died during the past several months, indicating likely spread of plague.
While there have been no human illnesses associated with the current Albany County situation, WDH reported a human case of pneumonic plague in a Fremont County individual who had exposure to sick pet outdoor cats last September. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during 2010-2019 there was an average of five human plague cases each year in the United States.
“Plague is a serious bacterial infection that can be deadly for pets and people if not treated as soon as possible with antibiotics,” said Courtney Tillman, epidemiologist with WDH. “The disease can be passed to humans from ill animals and by fleas coming from infected animals. We are letting people know of the potential threat in the cat’s home area as well as offering a reminder about plague to people across the state.”
“While the disease is rare in humans, plague occurs naturally in the western United States in areas where rodents and their fleas become infected,” Tillman said. “It is safe to assume a risk for plague exists all around our state.”
Recommended precautions to help prevent plague infection include:
- Use repellent if exposure to fleas is possible during activities such as camping, hiking or working outdoors. Products containing DEET can be applied to the skin as well as clothing.
- Keep fleas off indoor and outdoor pets by applying flea control products. Animals that roam freely outdoors are more likely to come into contact with plague-infected animals or fleas.
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to rodents, including avoiding areas with unexplained rodent die-offs and rodent carcasses.
- If pets become sick, seek care for them from a veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free to share beds with people.
- Reduce rodent habitats around the home, workplace and recreational areas by removing brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood and possible rodent food supplies.
- Wear gloves and a mask if handling potentially infected or deceased animals to prevent contact between your skin and the plague bacteria and to prevent inhaling the plague bacteria.
Plague symptoms in pets can include enlarged lymph glands; swelling in the neck, face or around the ears; fever; chills; lack of energy; coughing; vomiting; diarrhea and dehydration.
Plague symptoms in people can include fever, swollen and tender lymph glands, extreme exhaustion, headache, chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. People who are ill should seek professional medical attention.
More information about plague is available from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/plague/.