Plague In Arizona: Fleas Test Positive For Deadly Disease

Authorities in Arizona are on alert after fleas in the state have tested positive for plague, a condition that they could potentially pass to human beings.

Officials first noted the possibility of a plague outbreak after reports of a number of prairie dog deaths at Picture Canyon, according to the Daily Mail. Public health officials collected fleas from burrows located north of the Wildcat Wastewater Treatment Plant in east Flagstaff, a popular hiking area, and determined that they showed evidence of plague (Yersinia pestis) infection, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.

At least one dead prairie dog was observed by officials from the Coconino County Public Health Services District, along with a number of other specimens that appeared to be dying off. The animals are particularly susceptible to the spread of plague, as they live in large social groups. According to district division manager Randy Philips, the observations were consistent with plague infection.

“It looked like something that could be associated with death due to plague,” he noted.

Following the positive identification of plague, health officials sampled a larger area of the canyon in an attempt to determine the full spread of the infection. Insecticides were used around the prairie dog burrows as a precaution against communication of the disease. In addition to prairie dogs, other rodents, rabbits, and even larger predators have been known to carry the plague. Infected fleas could potentially spread the infection to humans, who could also be exposed to it through contact with an infected animal.

Though the plague is well known for its wide-ranging effects in Europe during the 1300s, several thousand people still contract the disease each year. In September of last year, plague was detected in fleas located in the Doney Park area of Coconino County, as the Inquisitr previously reported. The disease has established a foothold in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, with more than 80 percent of reported human cases of plague originating from those three states.

Symptoms of the plague include fever, muscle aches, and chills, which can progress into gangrene and pustules upon the skin. Though the type of plague found in Arizona can be easily controlled with modern medicines, it can still prove to be deadly if treatment isn’t sought.

[Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/ Getty Images]