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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?


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


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

1 Comment

  1. Gerry Miller

    The fleas are the vector for the plague and the animals mentioned are just the fleas legs and temporary home. As long as the fleas have a warm source of blood in which to replicate they will stay on the animal, human, etc. Once the animal assumes room temp they will flee to the next warm blooded animal which could be a squirrel or you. When I used to control California Ground Squirrels in Kern and Tulare Counties we used to always wear light colored clothing in order to visually detect fleas that got on us during our intentional handling of squirrel carcasuses (carci?)

    Leave the dog at home or well medicate with systemic or topical flea repellant and then thoroughly examine his skin after hiking. In your neck of the woods where plague is endemic, I’d not let the dog roam alone and would have it on a short leash. Not allow it to play with any dead critters or sniff their holes.

    If in a few days after being outdoors in a plague area you start getting flu like symptoms along with flea bites, get to your doctors and tell them that you’ve been in a plague infested area (Kern County).

    Again, its the fleas that carry the bubonic plague pathogen in their bodies, the critters like rodents do not carry it, but they do carry the fleas. Pneumonic plague is another serious step in this chain as it is manifested in the lungs and then passed in the breath of one to another. One can be a cat as was the case when a lady in Lake Tahoe slept with her cat whom was outdoors during the day. Long story short lady developed PN, passed it to her fiancee, the preacher, and all were dead within days of their wedding. All had flu like symptoms which they ignored till to late…….

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