Third cat tests positive for bubonic plague in Wyoming

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For the third time in recent months, a cat has tested positive for bubonic plague in Wyoming, the state's Department of Health reports. No human cases have been identified, but health officials warn the disease can be passed to people from infected animals.

The most recent case involved a cat in the small town of Kaycee. Officials said the animal was known to wander outdoors. The disease was confirmed by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory in Laramie.

This is the third plague-infected cat identified in Wyoming over the past six months. The other infected animals were in Sheridan and Campbell counties.

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Cases of human plague are extremely rare, but do occur. On average, there are seven human plague cases in the United States each year. Wyoming health officials say the last known human case in that state was in 2008.

Plague is caused by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis, which is spread through the bite of fleas carried by infected rodents. The disease occurs naturally in areas of the western and southwestern United States, officials say.

"Plague is a serious bacterial infection that can be deadly for pets and people if not treated as soon as possible with antibiotics," Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with the Wyoming Department of Health, said in a statement. "The disease can be passed to humans from ill animals and by fleas coming from infected animals. We are letting people know of the potential threat in the cat's home area as well as across the state."

What are the symptoms of plague?

Symptoms of the plague include fever, swollen and tender lymph glands, extreme exhaustion, headache, chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. The disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early.

The most common form of the disease, bubonic plague, accounts for about 80 percent of cases in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another form of the illness, pneumonic plague, occurs when the bacteria infects the lungs.

The Wyoming Department of Health recommends the following precautions to help prevent plague infections:

  • Use insect repellent on boots and pants when in areas that might have fleas.
  • Use flea repellent on pets and properly dispose of rodents pets may bring home.
  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to rodents and avoid contact with rodent carcasses.
  • Avoid areas with unexplained rodent die-offs.