Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bubonic plague at Denver Zoo

Jeremy P. Meyer:

An 8-year-old hooded capuchin monkey at the Denver Zoo was a victim of the bubonic- plague outbreak moving through the City Park neighborhood near the zoo.

Twenty-three animals - mostly tree squirrels - have tested positive for the disease out of 144 examined, said John Pape, epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Twenty animals were found in the City Park area. One specimen each has come from Jefferson County, Arapahoe County and near the old Lowry Air Force Base on the border of Denver and Aurora.

"This disease has the potential to move to other animals," Pape said. "We consider that risk to be low, but it still happens."

No humans have contracted the disease this year, Pape said.

A monkey dying from plague, however, serves as a reminder that people should not handle rodents and should keep their pets away from dead squirrels or rabbits, Pape said.

Zoo officials say the dead monkey, named Spanky, appeared lethargic May 15 and was found dead the next day.

Tissue samples from a necropsy confirmed the plague Friday.

The monkey may have caught the disease from eating an infected squirrel, said Dr. Dave Kenny, the zoo's senior veterinarian.

"That's a good way to get plague, eating plague-infected meat," said Mike Antolin, a Colorado State University biologist who studies the disease.

Black-footed ferrets can catch plague by eating infected prairie dogs, he said, and "there are famous cases from Asia of whole families dying from eating infected camel meat."

The Plague! The Plague!

Lessons of the Barbary Plague

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