Cat owners warned about plague risk from rodents
August 25, 2005
Four house cats have tested positive for the plague, including one in Tahoe City, California health officials said, prompting a warning to cat owners to keep their pets away from wild rodents.
Three of the infected cats were found in Kern County and the fourth was in Tahoe City. One of the Kern County cats survived, but the rest were euthanized.
“People who handle or have close contact with an infected cat risk getting plague,” said Dr. Howard Backer, the state’s interim public health officer.
It is rare for humans to contract plague through exposure to cats, state health officials say. Since 1977, 23 human plague cases associated with infected house cats were reported in the United States – four in California.
Two California victims died – an El Dorado County resident in 1980 and a Kern County resident in 1984. The most recent California case was in August 1997, and that victim survived.
Plague is an infectious bacterial disease that is spread by fleas carried by wild rodents. Cats can become infected by hunting or consuming an animal that carries plague.
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“The most important step pet owners can take to protect their cats and themselves from getting plague is to prevent their cats from hunting wild rodents,” Backer said.
House cats should be kept indoors if possible and should be supervised or leashed when allowed outside, health officials said. Cats should also be monitored for plague symptoms, including fever, swollen lymph nodes or respiratory problems such as sneezing or coughing.
State health officials said there is no sign of an increase in plague infections. The fact that four infected cats from two widely separated counties were discovered in a brief period merited a warning.
Plague also has been detected in animals in nine other California counties this year – Alpine, Butte, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Monterey, Nevada, Plumas and Sierra – although none of those cases involved pets.
Cat owners can take several simple actions to reduce the chance of their cat getting plague:
— Prevent your cat from hunting wild rodents. Keep all cats indoors as much as possible. If allowed outdoors, cats should be kept within a confined area, on a leash or closely supervised to prevent hunting.
— Leave cats at home or a boarding facility when traveling to areas where plague occurs.
— See your veterinarian if your cat develops a fever, swollen lymph nodes or respiratory difficulty.
— Discuss with your veterinarian appropriate strategies for regular flea control.
— Review the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/plague/index.htm