Plague passes, with rabies on its heels



The plague outbreak in Boulder’s Mapleton Hill area reported last week seems to have run its course, according to county officials.

But two confirmed cases of rabies in bats rolled in this week to take its place.

On June 3, Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) announced that a domestic cat and a dead squirrel tested positive for plague. The cat lived in the 2500 block of 6th Street, and the squirrel was found at 8th Street and Maxwell Avenue. Health officials posted signs around the neighborhood advising residents of the danger and listing precautionary measures to take.

Joe Malinowski, manager of the BCPH Environmental Health Division, said this week that a second dead squirrel tested positive for plague, but the cat was successfully treated for the disease. There have been no other confirmed cases, he said, adding that he knows of no humans who have reported contracting symptoms of the plague, which include high fever, extreme fatigue and painful, swollen lymph nodes.

His office has, however, received a few calls from area residents reporting additional dead squirrels. But Malinowski said officials won’t test another squirrel unless two or more are found in the same location.

The same area got hit with a similar plague infestation in 2005, he said, but usually the disease targets prairie dogs, not squirrels. Malinowski added that the plague typically runs its course within a few days.

“It goes through the population pretty quickly,” he said.

Usually prairie dogs return to the empty burrows of a colony that has been wiped out, and the squirrel population on Mapleton Hill is expected to bounce back as well, he explained.

This is the first confirmed case of plague identified this season, but Malinowski said it is common to have outbreaks each year.

Residents were advised to keep cats indoors, since they seem to be more susceptible to plague than dogs.

Officials suggest protecting pets with flea powder and keeping them on a leash and out of wild rodent habitats. People entering wild rodent habitats should wear insect repellent and tuck their pants into socks to prevent flea bites. Long-handed shovels should be used to remove dead rodents, and they should be sealed in garbage bags and placed in garbage cans.

Asked what symptoms sick animals exhibit outwardly, Malinowski said plague is not like distemper, which can leave animals like raccoons acting lethargic and wobbly. Typically, he said, the plague acts so quickly that death comes fast.

“Usually, you don’t see them sick,” he said. “Usually, you find them dead.”

The two bats that tested positive for rabies prompted officials to remind Boulder residents to avoid any contact with the animals.

The first bat was found on June 2 in an entryway outside of Unit 1 at 845 20th St., and the second was found on June 3 outside the entrance to Clutter Consignment at 1909 9th St., according to a news release.

Rabies is a viral disease that targets the nervous system and is fatal unless it is caught and treated in time. Treatment for rabies exposure includes a regimen of five injections given in the arm over a period of 28 days.

Officials are urging Boulder residents to avoid touching any bat, and to seek medical care immediately if a pet or person has contact with a bat.

More information on the bats can be found at

For information on plague, see