As everyone reading Drudge knows, a monkey in Denver’s Zoo has died of the plague.

It seems that an enterprising monkey must have caught and eaten a squirrel, and developed the disease.

Zoo officials note 23 animals, mostly squirrels, have been found to have the disease, which is spread via fleas.

Actually, about a thousand people a year die of plague, including a dozen in the US each year.

If you are a doc in the Indian Health Service in the Navajo area, it is one of the disease you have to think about if someone has a boil in his or her groin or armpit, especially if he has a high fever. The clue is often that they hunt or had contact with rodents. The plague is also carried by prairie dogs, but few people actually come in contact with them.

With treatment, most people live. The trick is to think of the disease so that you can start the right antibiotic.

So how did the Bubonic plague manage to enter the ecosystem of the American Southwest? Blame the Chinese, the San Francisco earthquake and political correctness.

When the plague appeared in Chinatown, the Chinese were so afraid their houses would be burnt down that they hid the bodies. The establishment didn’t take much notice, because they didn’t quite understand how the disease was spread, and dismissed it as due to the “dirty” Chinese. And the business officials didn’t want the news to get out, so they denied the plague was killing people:

San Francisco endured a decade of the bubonic plague because its health policy was essentially “every man for himself, and plague take the Chinaman.”

This worked, until the earthquake produced a plague of rats and disease. What finally cleared it up was the establishment of a public health department, and heroes like Rupert Blue, who went on to become the Surgeon General of the US.

But the bad news is that the slowness of the response allowed the bacillus to spread among rodents and ground squirrels in the Southwestern USA.

So if you live in Denver, don’t feed the squirrels, and for heaven’s sake, don’t eat them.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays on HeyDoc XangaBlog 


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