RED LAKE, Ariz. - The Coconino County Public Health Services District confirmed that fleas from prairie dogs in the Red Lake area tested positive for plague.
The affected colonies were located on private property and residents were notified. The public is still being warned to stay away from rodents if possible.
“If you see burrows, if you see prairie dogs, hike around that area. Avoid it as much as you possibly can,” said Randy Phillips, the division manager for Coconino County Public Health Services District.
The burrows are being treated and officials will be monitoring the area for changes, according to Phillips.
This is the first location in the county to test positive this year but because this is an ongoing problem in northern Arizona, there are likely other locations with infected fleas.
If you come into contact with rodents and think you may be infected, see a doctor immediately.
“Normally with plague, you might notice the bite. You might see it swell up a little bit but you’re going to see swelling in the groin and lymph nodes and around your neck. If you start to see that and you’ve been in this area, or camping or exposed to rodents in any way, I would go to a physician as soon as you can," said Phillips.
The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal, according to a press release from Coconino County Public Health Services District.
A sudden die-off of prairie dogs can be an indicator of plague.
Follow these tips from the Coconino County Public Health Services District to reduce the risk of exposure:
1. Do not handle sick or dead animals.
2. Prevent pets from roaming loose. Pets can pick up the infected fleas of wild animals, and then pass fleas on to their human owners. This is one of the common ways for humans to contract plague. Cats with plague can also pass the disease on to humans directly through respiratory droplets.
3. De-flea pets routinely. Contact your veterinarian for specific recommendations.
4. Avoid rodent burrows and fleas.
5. Use insect repellents when visiting or working in areas where plague might be active or rodents might be present (campers, hikers, woodcutters and hunters).
6. Wear rubber gloves and other protection when cleaning and skinning wild animals.
7. Do not camp next to rodent burrows and avoid sleeping directly on the ground.
8. Be aware that cats are highly susceptible to this disease and while they can get sick from a variety of illnesses, a sick cat (especially one allowed to run at large outside) should receive care by a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment to reduce human exposure to plague.
9. In case of illness see your physician immediately as treatment with antibiotics is very effective.
More information is available at https://www.cdc.gov/plague/.