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"Prairie Dog Plague" preventable disease

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- One of the first things you notice when driving into Colorado, outside of the gorgeous mountains, is the abundance of prairie dogs. They are cute little critters, standing upright from their holes, looking as harmless as can be.  Little did I know, they would play a big role in public health in the local community.  Prairie dogs are commonly infected with Bubonic Plague by the fleas that infest them.  When this happens the prairie dog usually dies within 2-3 days.  Many people associate the plague with the prairie dogs because of this, and locally the disease has taken the nickname of "Prairie Dog Plague."

Bubonic Plague symptoms include swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck. The swollen lymph nodes can get to the size of a chicken egg.  It can also include sudden onset of fever and chills, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches.  People will usually show symptoms two to six days after coming in contact with the disease. There is some risk with the dead prairie dogs as local wildlife may feast on the carcass and contract the disease.  However, the real danger comes from the fleas. The fleas could bite and transmit the disease to animals or people walking through the area.  The Black Tailed Prairie Dog is the most common in Colorado creating their homes in places like crawlspaces and under porches, patios and basements. Prairie Dogs are a prevalent nuisance on Buckley AFB and in the surrounding areas, so be on the look-out and protect yourself and your families.

Recommended control and prevention:
· Dusting rodent burrows with insecticide powder to kill fleas is effective in controlling plague in relatively small areas
· Avoid contact with all sick and dead rodents and rabbits. Report any die offs involving multiple rodents (as opposed to a single dead animal) or the sudden disappearance of a prairie dog colony to local or state health departments.
· Keep cats and dogs out of prairie dog colonies. This will continue to decrease the low number of human cases of the plague linked to prairie dogs.  Pets that live or visit rural areas should be treated for fleas according to your veterinarian's recommendations.
· Do not feed or entice any rodent or rabbit species into your yard, back porch or patio.
· Eliminate rodent habitat, such as piles of lumber, broken cement, trash and weeds around your home or cabin.
· While hiking, treat pants, socks, shoe tops, arms, and legs with insect repellants.
· Remember the incubation period of 2-6 days and consult a physician if sudden unexplained illness occurs within that period after activities in the outdoors.

The best way to ensure your safety and prevent the spread of any disease these furry animals may be carrying is to limit your contact with any and all prairie dogs. Secondary prevention measures may include ensuring any pets you have that go outside are properly treated against flea and flea bites. Wearing gloves to skin or gut animals while hunting is also a good way to protect yourself from any infectious disease they may be carrying, including a disease transmitted by the fleas from a prairie dog.
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