Could I Get The Plague On My Hike?

I am concerned about fleas and the plague. How is is transmitted? Should I not take my dog hiking with me? Can I get it if he doesn't come?
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I am concerned about fleas and the plague. How is is transmitted? Should I not take my dog hiking with me? Can I get it if he doesn't come?

Question:

I am concerned about fleas and the plague. Should I not take my dog hiking with me? Can I get it if he doesn't come?

Submitted by - Cindy, Bakersfield, CA

Answer:

Hi Cindy,

Plague is carried by rodents and passed primarily by the bite of rodent fleas.

In the United States, deer mice and various voles maintain the bacteria. It is amplified in prairie dogs and ground squirrels. Other possible reservoirs include chipmunks, marmots, wood rats, rabbits, and hares.

Coyotes and bobcats are known to have transmitted plague to humans after the critters were dead and humans were skinning them (and the fleas abandoned ship). Skunks, raccoons, and badgers are also suspect in the skinning process.

Meat-eating pets that eat infected rodents (or get bitten by infected fleas) can acquire plague. Dogs do not get very sick, but cats do. There is only one known case of plague being passed to a human by a sick dog, but several cats have passed the disease to several humans by biting them and/or coughing on them.

And, of course, pets can carry infected fleas to you and sick humans transmit plague readily to other humans. So, yep, you could get the plague if your dog stays home. But the chances are actually small.

To be safe, here are some steps that will help a lot if you’re hiking in plague-prone areas: Avoid rodents and rodent-rich areas, avoid touching sick or dead animals ( if you must touch them wear rubber gloves), restrain pets while traveling in infected areas, and use an insect repellent. --BUCK