First tularemia, now plague

If you’re out in the untamed wilds this summer, be sure to keep a healthy coating of Deet on at all times. A tularemia outbreak has been identified in Colorado, and if they’ve got it down there, our rabbits probably have it up here, too.

But last week, it was reported that a man and his dog were both infected with pneumonic plague in Adams County, Colorado. Last I heard, the man was being treated in the hospital, but his dog wasn’t so lucky. The poor pooch died from the disease.

Both plague and tularemia are infectious to humans. And in both cases, people can be infected by bites from fleas and ticks that have fed on animals carrying the diseases. Tularemia is most often carried by rabbits, and plague is fairly common in prairie dogs. In the Colorado plague case, it’s suspected that the man’s dog found a dead prairie dog, was bitten by fleas that had been on the rodent, and those fleas then found their way to the dog’s owner.

Keep your dogs close if you take them out into the woods or prairies this summer. Don’t let them gnaw on the remains of rabbits or rodents they might find along the way, and be sure to dose them with Frontline or some other form of flea and tick repellant regularly. In addition, spray yourself with a bug spray that contains Deet, and pay extra attention to the cuffs of your pants and the sleeve and neck openings of your shirt.

By winter, both the tularemia and plague outbreaks should die down. Both diseases kill small mammals fairly quickly, and without a lot of rabbits or prairie dogs in a small area to move between, the bacteria lose their steam.

Until then, take care to avoid being a host yourself.