NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – San Juan Basic Public Health says a prairie dog in western La Plata County has tested positive for plague July 15. They say the animal tested positive for Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes plague.

Officials say fleas from the prairie dog colony were collected and sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for testing. SJBPH says there has been no known human exposure to the the prairie dog, the colony or any fleas in the area.

What is plague and how is it spread?

According the CDC, plague is a disease that affects humans and other mammals and is caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria. Humans can get infected by being bitten by a rodent or flea what is carrying the disease or by direct contact with animal that is infected. SJBPH says plague is frequently detected in rock squirrels, prairie dogs, wood rats, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles and rabbits.

SJBPH tips for preventing contact with animal-borne illness:

• Reduce rodent habitat around your home, work place, and recreational areas
• Make your home and outbuildings rodent-proof.
• Wear gloves if you are handling potentially infected animals
• Use repellent if you think you could be exposed to rodent fleas during activities such as camping,
hiking, or working outdoors.
• Keep fleas off of your pets
• Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free in endemic areas to sleep on your bed.
• Be sure your children are aware of these precautions and know to tell an adult if they have had
contact with a wild animal.

Plague diagnosis and treatment

According the the CDC, the most common sign of bubonic plague is the development of a swollen and painful lymph gland called a bubo. In many cases, particularly in septicemic and pneumonic plague, there are no obvious signs. Diagnosis can be made by taking samples and submitting them for testing. Plague is a serious illness, but is treatable with commonly available antibiotics. The earlier a patient seeks medical care and receives treatment the better their chances are of a full recovery.