HEALTH ALERT: Pueblo County officials warning residents on plague and tularemia

Health officials are warning of the plague in Pueblo County. Photo courtesy: Olha Schedrina / The Natural History Museum / CC BY-SA 4.0/MGN.
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PUEBLO COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - With summer upon us comes an important warning the health officials in Pueblo County.

Click here to view a chart of diseases carried by wildlife.

On Friday, the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment sent out an alert to resident on summertime illnesses.

“The diseases tularemia and plague are typically found in wildlife, especially rabbits and prairie dogs,” said Alicia Solis program manager at the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment in a release. “Tularemia and plague can be passed to humans or animals through the bite of infected insects, most commonly ticks, fleas and deer flies, and by handling infected, sick, or dead animals,” explained Solis.

Tularemia is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which commonly infects rabbits. “In previous years, we have seen tularemia widespread in rabbits in Pueblo West,” stated Solis.

Plague, a potentially serious illness, is caused by a bacterium called Yersina pestis. It is usually passed from animal to animal by infected fleas and is often seen to have devastating effects on prairie dog colonies. The hungry infected fleas, who have lost their normal hosts, seek other sources of blood, thus increasing the risk to humans and other animals frequenting the area.

According to the department, people can get tularemia and plague in a few of the same ways:

-Being bitten by an infected tick, flea, or deerfly

-Handling infected animal carcasses

“It is important for pet owners to keep their animals from roaming free as they can be exposed to tularemia and plague,” stated Solis. “Ensure your pets have flea and tick protection. Do not let them eat dead animals. If your pet stops eating or drinking or develops other symptoms, take the pet to the veterinarian promptly.”

Symptoms of tularemia and plague in humans usually occur 2-7 days after exposure and may include:

·Sudden fever

·Chills

·Headaches

·Muscle aches

·Cough

·Progressive weakness

Other symptoms of tularemia and plague depend on how a person was exposed to the bacteria. These symptoms can include pneumonia, ulcers on the skin or mouth, swollen and painful lymph glands, and a sore throat.

Tularemia is not spread from person to person so those who are infected do not need to be isolated. People who have been exposed to tularemia or plague should be treated as soon as possible. These diseases can be fatal if not treated with the right antibiotics.

Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment recommends the following:

·Avoid all contact with wild animals; do not feed or handle them.

·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. Place the bag in an outdoor garbage can and then wash your hands.

·Wear gloves and closed-toe shoes when gardening.

·Do not mow over dead animals.

·Avoid ticks and fleas. Wear insect repellent containing DEET or treat clothing with repellent containing permethrin, especially if in rodent infested areas like prairie dog colonies.

·Avoid drinking unpurified water from streams or lakes and prevent your pets from doing the same.

·Apply flea/tick protection to pets.

·Prevent pets from hunting or eating wild animals.

Solis also advised all individuals to protect themselves from West Nile virus by following the Four D’s:

·DRAIN: Eliminate standing water in tires or similar water-holding containers as these may serve as mosquito breeding sites. Change the water in birdbaths, empty tires or flower pots, at least weekly.

·DUSK AND DAWN: Avoid outdoor activities, such as gardening, at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

·DEET: Picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus are also effective ingredients to look for in insect repellents. Always follow label instructions for application.

·DRESS: If outside during the periods when mosquitoes are most active, cover up by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes and socks.

Additional information is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website cdc.gov, or by calling the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment (719) 583-4998.