Veterinarians in Colorado are often at risk for exposure to the plague, as it is somewhat common among prairie dogs and other small animal wildlife in the state. Plague in larger wildlife, such as a mountain lion, is more unusual, and it’s rare that CSU veterinary students would be exposed to the plague as part of their studies, says CSU spokeswoman Dell Rae Moellenberg.
When the dead mountain lion was brought into the Diagnostic Medicine Center at CSU by the Colorado Department of Wildlife November 17, several students and employees were in the necropsy area viewing the case before the procedure started since many students were interested in seeing a mountain lion up close.
“There were no initial indications that the lion had died of plague but as the necropsy progressed, it became apparent that it may have been the cause of death, and immediate steps were taken to protect the health of those who were exposed. Given the need to start treatment quickly, students and employees were directed to immediately go to Poudre Valley Hospital for preventative treatment,” Moellenberg says.
Thirteen CSU students and employees were potentially exposed, along with one state department of wildlife employee. Eight additional people were near the area and asked to go to the hospital only as a precaution, although it is highly unlikely they were exposed, Moellenberg says.
University policy is that students are responsible for their own medical costs for incidents relating to their studies, but a misunderstanding between students and the college in this case led students to be informed that any deductible costs for treatments not covered by their individual medical insurance plans would be covered by the school. CSU will honor the promise, Moellenberg says, but changes are being discussed to avoid such confusion in the future.
“This incident has generated discussion around how to better address the concern that [veterinary] students might not have health insurance yet could be exposed to infectious diseases that present a risk to themselves and the greater community. Employees are already required to have health insurance coverage and are also covered by workers compensation benefits,” Moellenberg says. “The college is now looking at putting a system in place to require health insurance for future students so that financial concerns are not a reason for a student to avoid immediately receiving important medical treatment in a situation such as this.”
Additionally, CSU has put in place new biosecurity procedures for all wildlife necropsies at the Diagnostic Medicine Center. The procedures aim to reduce exposure to infectious diseases, which may be unexpectedly presented when wildlife necropsies are performed.