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Elmore County child recovering after being diagnosed with plague infection

An Elmore County child has been confirmed to have a plague infection and is recovering after receiving antibiotic treatment.

According to the Central District Health Department, person-to-person transmission of the plague is rare and this case was not a risk to others.

“Plague is spread to humans through a bite from an infected flea. People can decrease their risk by treating their pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife,” said Sarah Correll, D.V.M., Central District Health Department epidemiologist. “Wear insect repellent, long pants and socks when visiting plague affected areas.”

It is unknown where the child was exposed to the plague. According to the Central District Health Department, the child had recently been on a trip to Oregon.

The department says the plague has been previously found in wildlife in both states. Since 1990, eight human cases were confirmed in Oregon and two were confirmed in Idaho.

According to the Central District Health Department, plague in humans is rare, but occurs naturally in some rodent populations such as ground squirrels in Idaho. Fleas spread the disease between animals.

The health department says, symptoms of the plague usually show within two to six days of exposure and include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache and weakness. In most cases, there is also a painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit, or neck. Plague signs in cats and dogs include fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. There may be a swelling in the lymph nodes under the jaw of pets.

Prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment can greatly reduce the risk of death in people and pets.

The plague was last found in 2015 and 2016 in ground squirrels in both Elmore and south Ada counties. The health department says no ground squirrel die offs or unusual behavior has been found by state wildlife officials this season.

Since 1940, only five human cases of plague have been reported in Idaho. Prior to this case, the last two cases reported in Idaho occurred in 1991 and 1992, with both patients fully recovering.

The following tips were provided to protect people and pets from plague:

  • Don’t touch or handle wild rodents or their carcasses.
  • Keep your pets from roaming and hunting rodents. This is important – when an animal dies from the plague, fleas leave the body and look for another host, which could be your pet, especially if it rolls in a carcass or eats it.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about flea control for your pets before venturing out to ground squirrel areas, and follow the directions on the label. Not all flea products are safe for dogs and cats.
  • If you find a group of dead ground squirrels, you can report it to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game on its plague website (https://idfg.idaho.gov/plague).
  • Don’t feed rodents in campgrounds, picnic areas, or near your home.
  • Clean up areas near your home where rodents could live.
  • Store hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible away from your home.
  • Don’t leave pet food and water where rodents can get to them.
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