Cats Pose Plague Risk

Four house cats have tested positive for the plague in CA.

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October 24, 2005
Four house cats have tested positive for the plague, California health officials say. Because of this, cat owners are encouraged to keep their pets away from wild rodents.

Three of the infected cats were found in Kern County, Calif., and the fourth was in Placer County, Calif. One of the Kern County cats survived, but the rest were euthanized.

"People who handle or have close contact with an infected cat risk getting plague," says Dr. Howard Backer, the state's interim public health officer.

Human contraction of plague through exposure to cats is rare, state health officials say. Since 1977, 23 human plague cases associated with infected housecats were reported in the United States.

Plague is an infectious bacterial disease that fleas spread via wild rodents. Cats that hunt or consume plague-carrying animals can become infected.

"The most important step pet owners can take to protect their cats and themselves from getting plague is to prevent their cats from hunting wild rodents," Backer says.

Housecats should be kept indoors if possible and should be supervised or leashed when allowed outside, health officials say. Cats should also be monitored for plague symptoms, including fever; swollen lymph nodes; or respiratory problems, such as sneezing or coughing.

State health officials say there is no sign of an increase in plague infections. The fact that four infected cats from two widely separated counties were discovered in a brief period merely merited a warning.

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