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The plague – it’s not just a relic of the Middle Ages

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

The arrival of good weather brings a greater chance of encounters with animals carrying diseases, an epidemiologist at San Juan Basin Health Department said Thursday.

Bari Wagner said rabies, West Nile virus, hantavirus, plague and Colorado tick fever are carried by animals and insects that transmit them to humans.

The health department has received five calls about possible exposure to rabies this year, she said.

A cat and a skunk were trapped in April and sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for analysis, she said.

Both tests were negative.

Rabies can be transmitted by bites from dogs, skunks or bats, Wagner said.

In the last two years, 11 people in the health department service area have been urged to get anti-rabies vaccine.

Colorado has had three cases of hantavirus, in Weld, Delta and Garfield counties, Wagner said. None has been reported in Southwest Colorado, but people shouldn’t let their guard down, she said.

A Montezuma County man died of hantavirus in October 2010 in his cabin near Mancos.

Hantavirus is found in the urine or droppings of deer mice, she said. Dried feces or urine can be stirred up in dust that, if breathed, can infect people.

“The best way to protect yourself is to be careful when cleaning a summer cabin or working around a barn or wood pile,” Wagner said. “Those places are where deer mice, which carry hantavirus, are likely to be found.”

Plague is carried by fleas, she said. A die-off of prairie dogs can signal that plague is a threat.

West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes, and Colorado tick fever by ticks.

Wagner said people should protect themselves if they hike by wearing long sleeves and pants with long legs.

daler@durangoherald.com

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