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Public Health Prevention Tip: Treasure Valley Ground Squirrel Tests Positive for Plague

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – A Piute ground squirrel, commonly referred to as a “whistle pig,” takes a break from grazing on the lush grass encompassing the fairways of the Silver Sage Golf Course here May 24. Whistle pigs have called the golf course home for decades, peppering the fairways with numerous burrows. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shane M. Phipps)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – A Piute ground squirrel, commonly referred to as a “whistle pig,” takes a break from grazing on the lush grass encompassing the fairways of the Silver Sage Golf Course here May 24. Whistle pigs have called the golf course home for decades, peppering the fairways with numerous burrows. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shane M. Phipps)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – A Piute ground squirrel, commonly referred to as a “whistle pig,” scans the horizon, on the fairways of the Silver Sage Golf Course for possible predators here May 24. MHAFB creates an oasis for these ground squirrels due to an abundance of food and few natural predators. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shane M. Phipps)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – A Piute ground squirrel, commonly referred to as a “whistle pig,” scans the horizon, on the fairways of the Silver Sage Golf Course for possible predators here May 24. MHAFB creates an oasis for these ground squirrels due to an abundance of food and few natural predators. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shane M. Phipps)

Map of suspected area where plague may be present in wildlife. Please take precautions when visiting this area. (Courtesy Photo)

Map of suspected area where plague may be present in wildlife. Please take precautions when visiting this area. (Courtesy Photo)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Recently, Idaho Public Health officials reported that a ground squirrel, known as a whistle pig, found south of Boise has tested positive for the plague. Plague, or Yersinia pestis, is a bacterial disease spread by fleas that live on rodents that can cause serious illness to people and pets if not treated quickly. The 366th Medical Group and 124th Medical Group are monitoring the issue and coordinating with outside agencies and local health officials to protect the base and surrounding community.

What are the symptoms of the plague?
For people, symptoms of the plague include: a sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, and weakness. In most cases there is painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit or neck areas. Plague symptoms in cats and dogs are: fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and possible swelling in the lymph node under the jaw.

How can I protect myself & my family?
Fortunately, you can greatly reduce the risk of becoming infected with plague by taking simple precautions:

Around the home:
· Clean up areas near your home where rodents can live, such as woodpiles.
· Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from your home.
· Don't leave pet food and water where rodents or other wild animals can access them.
· If you find a dead whistle pig or other rodent on your property (i.e. on or off-base housing), contact Public Health for further instructions.

Around Treasure Valley:
· Avoid contact with wild rodents, their fleas and rodent carcasses.
· Do not feed rodents in picnic or campground areas.
· Never handle sick or dead rodents.
· Keep your pets from roaming and hunting ground squirrels or other rodents in the desert south of Boise.
· Use an insect repellent that contains DEET, when visiting areas where plague may be present.

I shot a whistle pig on public land nearby, should I be concerned?
If you or your pet may have had close or direct contact with whistle pigs or other wild rodents, see your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever. Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.

Public Health also recommends talking to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on pets as not all products are safe for cats, dogs or children.

Where can I go for more information?
For more information about the plague, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control's website at: http://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/

For more information about Treasure Valley ground squirrels and plague, visit the Central District Health Department website at: http://www.cdhd.idaho.gov/index.htm
For additional tips on preventing the plague and other contagious infections, contact the 124th MDG's Public Health at 208-422-5369.