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Plague, rabies found in Riverton dogs, bats

RIVERTON — Plague and rabies both have been detected in Riverton animals.

Three Riverton family dogs have tested positive for plague in the past two weeks, Riverton Police Department animal control officer Becki Weber said Sept. 5, and a bat found in town tested positive for rabies last week.

Both diseases can spread to humans and may result in death without proper treatment.

The recent plague diagnoses represent the first time the disease has been detected in Fremont County dogs, Weber said, noting that none of the cases were related.

More commonly, she said, cats get plague, often from fleas, though the disease also can live in animal carcasses.

Weber said the three dogs infected in Riverton all were "sick, (with) very high fever and swollen lymph glands."

All three were treated and released back to their owners.

Treatment of the disease involves an antibiotic, she said, recommending that anyone experiencing a cough or swollen glands visit a doctor for more information.

The disease can cause serious illness or death without proper treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bubonic plague, which usually results from a flea bite, involves a fever, headache, chills, weakness and "one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes," the CDC says. Septicemic plague, which can occur as a first symptom or can develop if bubonic plague goes untreated, brings more fever, chills and "extreme" weakness combined with "abdominal pain, shock and possibly bleeding into the skin and other organs," the CDC says, and "skin and other tissues may turn black and die, especially on fingers, toes and the nose."

If the disease still isn't treated it can turn into pneumonic plague, which occurs after the bacteria spreads to the lungs and causes "rapidly developing pneumonia" that "may cause respiratory failure and shock," the CDC says.

To prevent plague, reduce rodent habitats, and wear gloves while handling or skinning potentially infected animals, the CDC says; anyone who could be exposed to rodent fleas outdoors should use bug repellant, and flea control products should be used on all pets.

"Animals that roam freely are more likely to come in contact with plague-infected animals or fleas and could bring them into homes," the CDC says. "Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free in endemic areas to sleep on your bed, (and) if your pet becomes sick, seek care from a veterinarian as soon as possible."

The CDC notes that a plague vaccine is no longer available in the United States, though new plague vaccines are in development.

There is a vaccine for rabies, and Weber encouraged residents to take advantage of that fact by having their animals vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian and registered through the city.

"Keeping your pets up to date on their rabies vaccination will prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife, and thereby prevent possible transmission to your family or other people," the CDC says.

The virus can only be transmitted through direct contact with the saliva or tissue of an infected animal - usually in the form of a bite.The agency notes that, when bats are involved, bites can be hard to detect due to the animals' small size.

"If you are unsure, seek medical advice to be safe," the CDC says.

Weber says she sends all bats found in the City of Riverton to the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory for testing - and there have been more bats to test lately.

"They're in businesses in Riverton as well as houses," Weber said.

She asked residents to call the RPD at 856-4891 if they find a bat, and an officer will respond to remove the animal.

After exposure, the rabies virus has to travel through the body to the brain before symptoms can emerge - a process that can last for weeks to months, according to the CDC. Then, the first symptoms are flu-like, including "general weakness or discomfort, fever or headache" that may last for days. There also may be "discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the site of the bite, progressing within days to acute symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, and agitation," the CDC says; people also may experience "delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, hydrophobia (fear of water), and insomnia."

Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the CDC says the disease is "nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive."

"To date less than 20 cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been documented," the CDC says.

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