Voles near Caldwell may have died from plague, health officials say

That’s the conclusion of initial tests done on a dead vole found just west of Caldwell in the area of Idaho 19 and Wagner Road.

A dozen voles were found dead last week in a small area of farmland and small businesses, but only one of the recovered voles was suitable for lab analysis, Idaho Department of Fish and Game veterinarian Mark Drew said Monday.

Agencies including the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Southwest District Health and Fish and Game say the incident seems localized and not widespread, but urged people in a Monday announcement to take precautions and report groups of dead rodents through Fish and Game’s website here.

“We’re looking for reports of 10 to 12 (dead animals) in one area,” Drew said.

The voles’ deaths are not believed related to recent plague on the other side of the Treasure Valley that infected a population of ground squirrels in a large area between Kuna, Boise and Mountain Home, Drew said. Those plague cases were first announced in May; two weeks later, a dog that had contact with ground squirrels in the plague area was reported infected.

Since 1940, only five human cases of plague have been reported in Idaho. The last two cases reported in Idaho occurred in 1991 and 1992, and both patients fully recovered, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports.

Plague is a bacterial disease of rodents that can cause serious illness to people and pets if not treated quickly. It is generally transmitted through bites of infected fleas. It may also be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, rabbits and pets. Common rodents that can become infected include mice, rats, voles, chipmunks and ground squirrels, officials said. Tree squirrels in Idaho are not known to carry plague.

Plague activity can increase in the spring and summer months when rodents are more active. People can be exposed to plague when pets have contact with rodents or fleas outdoors, or bring infected rodents or fleas back into the home. People can also become infected by caring for a sick pet without proper precautions.

People can greatly reduce their risk of becoming infected with plague by taking simple precautions, including avoiding contact with wild rodents, their fleas and rodent carcasses. They should not feed rodents in parks, picnic or campground areas and never handle sick or dead rodents.

Health officials also suggest:

•  See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever.

•  Keep your pets from roaming and hunting voles or other rodents. Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian, especially if they may have had contact with sick or dead rodents.

•  Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on pets. Not all products are safe for cats, dogs or children.

•  Don’t leave pet food and water where rodents or other wild animals can access them.

•  Clean up areas near your home where rodents can live, such as woodpiles and lots with tall grasses and weeds.

•  Put hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible from your home.

Symptoms of plague in humans include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, and weakness. In most cases there is a painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit or neck areas. Plague symptoms in cats and dogs are fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. There may be a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw. With prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced. Physicians who suspect plague are asked to promptly report it to their local public health district.