A wild rabbit found dead by a prairie dog burrow in Yoder contracted to plague before it died, the El Paso County Public Health Department announced Friday.
Public health workers came across the rabbit while looking into reports of possible dead prairie dogs in eastern El Paso County. The health department says that in addition to the rabbit, they found empty prairie dogs burrows, suggesting the animals that had resided there may have died. An unusual die-off of prairie dogs in an area can be a sign that the plague has reached a particular area.
“Plague is cyclical and it is common for prairie dog colonies to experience high loses; 90 percent or more can die during a plague outbreak,” Environmental Health Director Tom Gonzales, M.P.H., said in a statement released by the health department Friday.
The rabbit was tested Thursday. After it was confirmed that it had been sick, a health specialist went door-to-door in the Yoder area to notify residents and share information on how to prevent getting sick.
This is the first time that the plague has been confirmed in El Paso County this season.
The health department advises people to take the following precautions to avoid getting sick:
AVOID FLEAS! Protect pets with flea powder, and keep pets on a leash and out of wild rodent habitats.
· STAY OUT of areas that wild rodents inhabit. If you enter areas with wild rodents, wear insect repellent and tuck pant cuffs into socks to prevent flea bites.
· AVOID all contact with wild rodents, including squirrels; do not feed or handle them.
· DO NOT TOUCH sick or dead animals.
· PREVENT rodent infestations around your house: clear plants and materials away from outside walls, reduce access to food items.
· TREAT known rodent sites around your home with flea powder or a suitable insecticide.
Taking precaution to avoid fleas is paramount, the health department says, because the plague is most commonly transmitted by fleas that become infected after feeding on infected rodents like prairie dogs. This includes taking precaution to keep fleas away from pets, because fleas could transmit the plague to pets, who in turn could spread the plague to their owners.
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms such as high fever, chills, extreme fatigue or tender/swollen lymph glands, see a doctor right away.