Another outbreak of plague has been found in New Mexico and Arizona. From January to July 2017, New Mexico has three confirmed cases of Yersinia pestis. This bacteria causes plague in humans. Arizona prairie dogs in Cocinino county near Williams, Arizona suddenly started dying this summer. Testing revealed Y. pestis bacterium caused their deaths. Now, fleas in Navajo county have tested positive as well. Plague often occurs in the desert southwest states from May through October.
People develop plague after being bitten by a flea infected with Y. pestis within 2 to 6 days. If the bacterium is inhaled, the onset of clinical signs is only 1 to 3 days. Unlike people, cats contract the plague after eating infected rodents. Clinical signs in animals and people include swollen lymph nodes, fever and general malaise. Plague has three different syndromes in humans and cats. Dogs are naturally resistant to the plague. Bubonic plague is the first stage that occurs when the bacterium settles into the lymph nodes of the head and neck. With time, the glands may rupture and drain a bloody material. Pneumoic plague occurs when the bacterium spreads from the lymph nodes to the lungs. Septicemic plague occurs when the bacterium enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body. This form is rare in cats.
Intensive treatment with antibiotics and fluids must be started early to prevent death. Infected patients, animals as well as humans, are quarantined to prevent infecting others. Because of the extremely poor prognosis and rapid progression of the disease, treatment is often started before an actual diagnosis is confirmed. If plague is suspected, start treatment.
Avoiding the bacterium is the key to prevention. Keep cats indoors to prevent exposure to rodents. For the benefit of humans and cats who live with dogs, routinely use flea control products on the dogs. Clear out rodent habitats around homes. Humans should wear gloves when handling wild animals. Most human deaths are in either hunters who were bitten while handling their prey or veterinary professionals who were exposed when treating a sick cat. This happens to vets and staff because draining buboes on the head and neck look similar to cat fight abscesses. More information can be found at the Centers for Disease Control.
-Hafner, John. ‘Plague in Arizona: fleas found carrying the infectious disease.’ USA TODAY Network, Published 8/16/17.
-Morrison, Wallace. ‘Plague’. Balckwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult, Canine and Feline, 5th edition, Wiley-Blackwell Publishers