The heat is not the only thing Panhandle residents need to be careful of this summer. Bubonic plague is affecting animals, and at least one person has contracted West Nile virus in the region.

A prairie dog town in northeast Hansford County was wiped out by bubonic plague in the past few weeks, said Ron Antalek, the county's emergency management coordinator. He suggested being on alert for signs of other die-offs, controlling pets to prevent them from getting the fleas that carry the disease and not directly handling dead rodents.

In humans, plague shows up in several forms but is caused by one bacteria. It is accompanied by flulike symptoms such as fever, chills and weakness. Swollen lymph nodes in the groin or armpit areas can indicate bubonic plague. The septicemia form of plague is a blood infection. Pneumonic plague is a respiratory infection that passes between humans or from animals to humans.

All forms are considered fatal without prompt antibiotic treatment, according to Antalek.

The last known prairie dog die-offs in the Panhandle in which the animals tested positive for plague were in Sherman County in 2006, according to the Texas Department of Health Services.

While deadly, the plague is not new to the region.

"It's endemic in our environment," said James Alexander, regional zoonosis control veterinarian for Health Services Region 1. "The prairie dog periodically surfaces as the animal that gets nailed by it."

West Nile also comes in various forms, and a person under the age of 18 in Floyd County recently contracted the most serious type.

"The only thing we know right now is they were briefly hospitalized and released," Alexander said.

West Nile is spread by mosquitoes.

Officials warn residents to use insect repellent and to dump standing water where the insects can lay their eggs. Also, curbing outside activity around dawn and dusk and wearing long sleeves and long pants will help, Alexander said.

Many veterinarians now vaccinate animals for the virus, but birds can carry the disease after being bitten by mosquitoes.

For more details on West Nile or the bubonic plague, go to the Centers for Disease Control Web site.