June 03–Nearly two weeks after ground squirrels southwest of Boise tested positive for plague, no cases of the disease have shown up in people or pets, public health officials say.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Central District Health Department and Idaho Department of Fish and Game are still tracking information about the outbreak and asking the public to be cautious until late June or early July, when the ground squirrels go into hibernation.
Central District Health just this week mailed a flyer with information about the plague to residents in the area of the possible outbreak — a large swath stretching from outside of Boise and Kuna down near Mountain Home. Spokeswoman Christine Myron said the district is still receiving calls from concerned members of the public.
“I know that they have tested some dogs, and everything has come back as negative to date,” Myron said Wednesday. “Hopefully the end of this is in sight, or at least the main threat,” she added, referencing the squirrels’ pending hibernation.
All three agencies have posted copious information on the plague online. Central District Health’s offerings include an interactive map of the possible infection area, allowing residents to confirm by their address whether they should be concerned about local wildlife. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare compiled an extensive Q on the disease on its blog, including symptoms of plague and what to do if you find dead ground squirrels on your property.
“We’re just really wanting people to be aware, especially now that kids are out of school and could be in the area,” Health and Welfare spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr said.
Idaho Fish and Game’s page includes a tool to report wildlife die-offs in the possible plague area. Spokesman Mike Demick said his agency got a few reports the first week after the news broke, but that lately the page has been sparsely visited.
Dr. Elizabeth Cienava with WestVet, the 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic in Garden City, said her office has had two people bring in dogs to be tested. Both preliminary results were negative. It also fielded a call from a dog owner concerned after their dog fought with a tree squirrel — only ground squirrels have been found with plague so far, and only in the area mapped by the state agencies. People are concerned and asking questions, she said.
The plague, a bacterial disease, can be spread by the bites of fleas or by direct contact with infected animals. The plague is believed to have reached Idaho in about the 1930s and has likely been in the ground squirrel population for decades.