In a follow-up to a report of the plague deaths of ground squirrels reported in Ada and Elmore counties, Idaho, the Central District Health Department reported Friday the death of  a Elmore County cat who died after contact with ground squirrels, also known as “whistle pigs,” before becoming ill.

Oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis/CDC

Laboratory tests indicate an Elmore County cat likely died from plague.

According to health officials, the cat lived outside of the initial area of impact identified earlier where the  ground squirrels were located; the cat resided approximately three miles west of the City of Mountain Home. Given the positive initial tests for plague in the cat, the area of impact has been expanded eastward into Elmore County. People living or recreating in the area should take precautions.

Plague is transmitted through the bites of infected fleas and can cause serious illness to people and pets if not treated quickly. It also can be transmitted to people by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, rabbits and pets. Common rodents that can become infected include ground squirrels, rats, voles and mice. Tree squirrels in Idaho are not known to carry plague.

“This is a reminder that whether you live in the area of impact or recreate there, it is very important to take precautions to avoid contact with ground squirrels and their potentially infected fleas. Make sure your pets have proper flea control. Do not let your pets touch ground squirrels in the affected area. People can be exposed to plague when pets bring infected fleas back into the home, by caring for a sick pet without proper precautions, or by contact with rodents carrying fleas,” said Sarah Correll, Epidemiologist for Central District Health Department.