A squirrel in Colorado has tested positive for the bubonic plague, also known as the “Black Death,” according to local health authorities.
The squirrel was discovered in a small town west of Denver, and is the first case in the region, health authorities said in a statement released Sunday.
This discovery comes about a week after authorities in a city in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia issued a warning after a hospital reported a case of suspected bubonic plague in a human. There were at least four reported cases of plague in people from Inner Mongolia late last year, according to the New York Times. Two of them were pneumonic plague, a deadlier variant of plague.
“Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and can be contracted by humans and household animals,” public health officials wrote. However, if proper precautions are taken, the risk of getting plague is “extremely low,” they said.
Humans can get infected through bites from infected fleas or animals.
The bubonic plague, notorious for killing millions of people during the Middle Ages, is an often fatal disease caused by bacteria. Humans usually get bubonic plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with plague, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms may include high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes. The disease can cause serious illness or death without proper treatment, according to the CDC. Antibiotics are effective in treating it.
Plague is found on most continents but most human cases since the 1990s have occurred in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
Colorado authorities are asking residents to take precautions, including avoiding contact with sick or dead wild animals and rodents and keeping pets from roaming freely outside. Cats are highly susceptible to plague and may die if not treated promptly with antibiotics, they said.