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Plague and Animals

What is plague?

Plague is a rare bacterial disease caused by Yersinia pestis (yer-SIN-ee-ah PEST-iss). People usually show symptoms 2 to 6 days after getting plague. Symptoms include fever, chills, weakness, and swollen and painful lymph nodes. A few people get pneumonia (infection of the lungs) as a first symptom of plague. The infection then spreads to other parts of the body. If this disease is not treated right away, many people who get sick will not survive.

Can animals transmit plague to me?

Yes, people can get plague from an infected animal, but this is very rare. Rodents (for example, mice, rats, and squirrels) and cats are animals that can carry plague. This disease most often occurs in the southwestern part of the United States. Usually, people get plague from the bite of an infected flea. Since fleas bite both people and animals, especially cats and rodents, an infected flea can pass plague to animals or people. Sometimes, people get plague from working with an animal that is infected. People also can get infected by breathing in tiny droplets of water contaminated with Y. pestis.

How can I protect myself against plague?

  • Do not pick up or touch dead animals.
  • If plague has recently been found in your area, report any observations of sick or dead animals to the local health department or law enforcement officials.
  • Eliminate sources of food and nesting places for rodents around homes, work places, and recreation areas; remove brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood, and potential food supplies, such as pet and wild animal food. Make your home rodent-proof.
  • If you anticipate being exposed to rodent fleas, apply insect repellents to clothing and skin, according to label instructions, to prevent flea bites. Wear gloves when handling potentially infected animals.
  • If you live in areas where rodent plague occurs, treat pet dogs and cats for flea control regularly and do not allow these animals to roam freely.
  • Health authorities may use appropriate chemicals to kill fleas at selected sites during animal plague outbreaks.

How can I find out more about plague?

Learn more about plague from CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases Web site.

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