Squirrels found with bubonic plague in neighborhoods near Garden of the Gods
After two weeks of investigations and surveillance, the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment received
confirmation this week from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that squirrels in an area of the Westside
south and west of the Garden of the Gods are carrying bubonic plague. Also afflicted is a neighboring area in northeast Manitou
Calls to two residents of the area indicated a concern that was somewhat short of panic.
Jean Pulos, a long-time resident of the identified Westside area, said she was taking precautions with her pets, but is not overly worried because this is not the first time plague has been reported in her area. “It seems like every two or three years this happens,” she said. “Squirrels have died, but I haven't heard of any people getting sick.”
A similar comment was offered by Pat Tegler, who has lived in the area nearly 10 years. “We're not too concerned,” she said. “We have squirrels nearby, but our dog keeps them at bay.”
According to County Health, the last human case in the county occurred in 1991. The county's last plague incident involved prairie dogs on the east side last year, Mydlowski said. He added that the areas more likely to have squirrel/plague problems are those with older trees and older houses (as is the case in the currently afflicted area).
Plague is a bacterial disease of rodents transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected flea. A key control measure being used by the Health Department is baiting squirrels into carpeted tubes containing an insecticide that kills fleas, according to Don Mydlowski, the Health Department's program manager for animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
People are advised not to take action against the squirrels. “Do not attempt to catch, kill, feed or handle any type of squirrel, chipmunk or other wild rodent,” Mydlowski said. “Keep your dogs and cats under control and do not allow them to chase wild animals. If you live in the affected area, keep cats indoors. Residents within the affected area should also clear property from trash, lumber piles, and other areas where animals live or hide.”
Anyone finding a dead squirrel in the affected area is asked to contact the Health Department at 578-3199. Additional information may be found on the health department's web site at www.elpasocountyhealth.org.
Westside Pioneer from a press release