A prairie dog colony in Weld County, Colo., suffering from the plague – a serious bacterial disease that can spread to humans – has since died off, state wildlife officials announced this week.
The Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment said that the plague, which is typically spread by infected fleas, was confirmed in a prairie dog colony in a private property southwest of the county.
“Prairie dogs are particularly sensitive to plague so infected fleas can very quickly eliminate a prairie dog colony,” officials said in the news release.
The plague – sometimes called the “black plague,” according to Healthline – is a potentially deadly infection that is caused by a strain of bacteria known as Yersinia pestis.
“This bacterium is found in animals throughout the world and is usually transmitted to humans through fleas,” Healthline notes.
Though rare, the plague can equally affect animals and humans.
Symptoms of the plague include fever, extreme exhaustion, headache, chills, vomiting, and swollen lymph glands, among other signs.
The disease is more common in areas with poor sanitation or overcrowding, according to Healthline. Using insect repellent in flea-heavy areas, avoiding contact with rodents or dead rodents, among other precautionary steps can help to avoid being infected with the plague.
Those who live in an area where the plague has been confirmed should not let their pets – dogs included – roam freely.
“The sudden absence of prairie dogs where there once was an active colony could be a warning sign,” Mark Wallace, the executive director of Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a statement.
“Residents should protect themselves by keeping fleas off pets and using an insect repellent when working, playing, or camping in areas where fleas may be present.”