Plague is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. The bacteria are passed between rodents through the bite of an infected flea. It can be passed to humans by a flea bite or by handling animals that have died from the disease. The disease can be fatal if it is not treated with antibiotics or if treated too late in the course of the illness. Domestic cats are particularly vulnerable to plague and often spread the disease to their owner.

There have been no human cases of plague in Washoe County for more than twenty years. However, plague does maintain a presence in wild rodent populations in the area. California ground squirrels, golden mantle ground squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits are known to harbor plague-carrying fleas in Washoe County.

The Vector-Borne Disease Prevention Program staff will pickup deceased ground squirrels that are in close proximity to human habitation and transport them to the Nevada State Department of Agriculture Animal Diseases Laboratory (ADL) for plague testing. By determining if a rodent has died from plague, our staff can take precautions to prevent the spread of the disease to humans and domestic cats. Public warnings to alert residents against having contact with dead or sick rodents may be posted.

You may contact the Vector-Borne Disease Prevention Program staff at 785-4599 regarding pickup of a dead squirrel.

More information on plague from the CDC.