Outdoor cats can be exposed to harmful bacteria – including plague – through interactions with infected wildlife (the cat depicted does not suffer from plague). [1
A domestic cat in Wyoming was recently diagnosed with bubonic plague; It is now the third cats in the state who have contracted for the fatal disease in the last six months.
While the word "plague" evokes images of epidemics that wipe out medieval societies in their entirety, the bacterial infection naturally occurs in wild rodents (and their fleas) in the western United States and rarely affects humans, according to local health officials. Prairie dogs are common carriers of the disease. [Pictures of a Killer: A Plague Gallery]
The cat named Kaycee was "known to wander outdoors", representatives of the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) said in a statement on January 4. Kaycees roaming habits probably showed that to an animal already infected with the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is typically transmitted between animals through flea bites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Once called "the black death" and "the great pestilence" plague originated in Asia and Europe decimated in the 14th century and struck an estimated 33 percent to 50 percent of the population. Pest then traveled to North America and Australia in 1900, and today plague has been found on all continents except Antarctica, Live Science previously reported.
On average, there are seven cases of plague in humans each year in the US and the death rate is 11 percent, the CDC says. The infection is cured with antibiotics if caught early.
Animals infected with bubonic plague may experience swelling in the neck and face area, fever, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea, WDH representatives say. Symptoms are similar.
People may be infected with pest by contact with sick animals or through bites of infected fleas, Dr. Alexia Harrist, State Health Officer and State Epidemiologist with WDH, said in the statement. Now that a third infected cat has been identified, Wyoming takes officials to make sure people are safe, according to Harrist.
"We let people know about the potential threat in the cat home as well as across the state," she said.
Precautions recommended by WDH include the use of pet propellants, and boots and pants when visiting flea-captive sites. Wild rodents – dead or alive – should be avoided, as well as anywhere where many rodents have died suddenly, according to WDH.
Officials have not released additional updates on Kaycee's health status since the infection was first reported.
Originally published on Live Science .