Plague Detected in Cat in Fremont County

No human illnesses connected to infected cat found, state health department says

An average of seven human plague cases have occurred each year in the U.S., mostly in the western region, in recent decades, according to federal health data. (Courtesy photo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Plague was recently detected in a cat in Fremont County, the Wyoming Department of Health announced Monday.

The Lander-area cat, a pet who spent time indoors and outdoors and hunted rodents, underwent laboratory testing last week and is being treated. The health department has reported no human illnesses linked to the infected cat. The last time the agency reported a human plague case in Fremont County occurred in September 2021, when the disease spread from sick outdoor cats.

Emily Curren, state public health veterinarian with the health department, described plague as a “serious bacterial infection” that can be fatal for people and animals if not treated quickly. She noted the disease can spread to humans from fleas of infected animals.

“While the disease is rare in humans, plague occurs naturally in the western United States in areas where rodents and their fleas become infected,” Curren said in a statement. “It is safe to assume a risk for plague exists all around our state.”

Curren and other officials at the Wyoming Department of Health declined to provide additional comment.

Coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, lack of energy, chills, fever, enlarged lymph glands, and swelling in the neck, face or around the ears are some plague symptoms in pets. In humans, plague symptoms can include vomiting, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, chills, headache, exhaustion, fever, diarrhea and swollen and tender lymph glands.

Today, plague infects humans in the rural areas in the western United States. There has been an average of seven human plague cases each year in the U.S. in recent decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most plague cases have occurred in northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern Oregon and far western Nevada.

Between 1970 and 2020, three cases of human plague have been reported in Wyoming, CDC data shows.

Individuals who are sick should seek professional medical attention.

To prevent plague infection, the Wyoming Department of Health recommends keeping fleas off indoor and outdoor pets by applying flea control products; avoiding unnecessary exposure to rodents; seeking care for pets from a veterinarian as quickly as possible if animals become sick; prohibiting free-roaming dogs and cats from sharing beds with people; wearing gloves and a mask if handling potentially infected or dead animals; and using repellent during activities where exposure to fleas is possible.

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