We may earn affiliate commissions from the companies mentioned in this post.
Two counties in Arizona has confirmed that fleas in prairie dogs are tested positive for bubonic plague. This is the same infectious disease called the Black Death that killed 75 to 200 million people in Europe and Central Asia during the Middle Ages (1346–1353).
County official from the two counties, Coconino and Navajo confirmed last Friday that prairie dogs in the area carry fleas with Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes the bubonic plague.
Source: Google Maps
The Navajo County Health Department has advised the public to take precautions to avoid exposure to the disease by infected fleas in dogs, rats, rabbits, rodents such as squirrels and chipmunks. The disease is transmitted to humans through bites from the infected fleas and touching the infected animals.
The public should also watch out for sudden death of group of prairie dogs or rodents, indicating the presence of plague.
Will the plague be epidemic? No. With the advancement in modern medicine, the conditions now are very different from that of the Middle Ages. During the Black Death, there were no rational explanations and no one knew how the disease were transmitted.
According to US Center for Disease Control (CDC), During 2001–2012, the annual number of human plague cases reported in the United States ranged from one to 17 with an average if 3 cases a year. However, in 2015 there were 11 reported cases of plague, of which 3 died.
Plague is spread by infected fleas in wild rodents in rural and semirural areas of the Western United States,
most commonly New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.
Of all the plague cases, bubonic plague which is cause by the bite from an infected flea accounted for 80% – 85% of the cases. Once a person is infected by plague, there is a sudden onset of fever followed by abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
The bubonic plague which is considered the least lethal form, attack the lymphatic system. A painful swelling or “bubo” of the lymph nodes will occur on the first few days of the illness.
The mortality rate for untreated plague is from 66% to 93%. However, with early detection and prompt treatment of antibiotics, mortality is reduced to 16%.
Septicemic plague which accounts for approximately 10% of cases, can occur from a flea bite or from direct contact with infectious fluids.This illness affects the bloodstream causing internal bleeding and is usually fatal, if not treated immediately.
The pneumonic plague which is the least common infects the lungs.
In 2013, a retired welder who lives in a remote part of Oregon, got infected by plague when he tried to remove a mouse from the throat of a choking cat.
His hands and feet swelled up and turned black as the infection killed his flesh. According to the doctor he was infected by the 3 types of plague. Luckily he survived the disease but his hands has to be amputated and has to go for life long dialysis as his kidneys were damaged by the plague.