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Plague Awareness


Ground squirrels in Idaho's desert sagebrush areas are known to be a source of plague. The highest risk for plague exposure to animals and humans occurs March through July. In early June 2018, an Elmore County child was confirmed to have plague. The child was treated and has recovered. It is most likely the child contracted plauge in Oregon, but an exact source was not found. In late June 2018, an Elmore County pet cat tested positive for plague. The cat was treated and is recovering. In mid-July, a feral cat died, most likely from plague.

Although no rodent die-offs have been reported so far in 2018, Idaho public health and wildlife officials remind people there is always potential for ground squirrels who reside in desert areas with sagebrush to carry plague, and urge anyone visiting these areas to take precautions to protect themselves and pets from plague. View the 2018 Potential Plague Affected Area Map

In recent years, pets have become ill or died from contact with ground squirrels or their fleas — and put humans in danger of illness and death. In 2016, four cats from Elmore County and one from Ada County became infected with plague. Four of the five infected cats died.

07-16-2018: Elmore County Cat Likely Died of Plague

06-26-2018: Elmore County Cat Recovering from Plague Infection

2018 Map of Potential Plague Affected Area

06-12-2018: Elmore County Child Recovering After Plague Infection

06-12-2018 Health Alert to Providers

06-12-18 - Idaho Health & Welfare Blog Post

Plague-Related Materials & Links

Where is plague in the US? (CDC map)


What is plague?

Plague occurs naturally in the western United States.

  • Plague is a serious disease caused by bacteria
  • Plague is often passed by the bite of an infected flea
  • Can be passed from animals (including pets) to humans
  • Can be fatal to humans and pets if left untreated

How do people get plague?

  • Bites of infected fleas
  • Touching or skinning infected animals (such as ground squirrels, rats and rabbits)
  • Inhaling droplets of the cough of an infected person or animal (especially sick cats)

How can I avoid plague?

  • Do not feed rodents in picnic or campground areas and never handle sick or dead rodents.
  • Keep your pets from roaming and hunting ground squirrels or other rodents in affected desert areas.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on pets as not all products are safe for cats, dogs or children.
  • Clean up areas near your home where rodents can live, such as woodpiles.
  • Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian, especially if they may have had contact with sick or dead rodents in the desert areas south and east of Boise.
  • See your doctor if you have any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever after being in a plague-impacted area.
  • Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from your home.
  • Don’t leave pet food and water where rodents or other wild animals can access them.




News releases may not be issued in every instance of suspected plague infection or plague-related pet death.

Communicable Disease Department at CDH

If you have health-related questions regarding plague, please call CDH at 327-8625. Please note that this number and email account are only staffed during weekdays between 8 am and 5 pm.

EMAIL Communicable Disease at CDH

upcoming events

Dec 158:30am

The next Regular Board of Health meeting will be held on Friday, December 15, 2023 at 8:30am at 707 N. Armstrong Pl, Boise The Board Meeting schedule is posted inside CDH Headquarters and on the Board Meetings page, HERE. View past meetings via YouTube.

May 16 10:00am - 2:00pm

Make your health a priority and attend a free health screening event! Screenings consist of a single finger poke to run a full lipid panel (Total Cholesterol, LDL, HDL, Triglycerides, and Blood Glucose) and an A1C test. Screenings take approximately 20 minutes and participants will leave with a copy of their results. Know your numbers – Get Screened! No appointment necessary, at the Mountain Home Library.