A new report suggests fleas are testing positive for the plague in some counties of Arizona. Officials in two counties in Arizona are warning the public after several fleas in the region tested positive for the disease.

The plague is a disease that affects both humans and mammals and is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People usually contract the disease after being bitten by a rodent flea that carries the plague bacterium or by handling an infected animal.

Image credit: Acvcsd.org
Image credit: Acvcsd.org

The two affected counties are Navajo County and Coconino County.

Sudden die-off of prairie dogs and rodents in Navajo County suggest presence of plague

Navajo County Public Health officials confirmed on Friday that fleas in the region had tested positive for the disease. Coconino County Public Health Services District in Arizona recently issued a similar warning about plague-infected fleas in the area. Both counties are located in the northern part of the state.

“Navajo County Health Department is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits, and predators that feed upon these animals,” the public health department said in a Facebook statement. “The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal.”

The statement also said an abundance of active prairie dogs does not indicate the disease is present, but a sudden die-off of prairie dogs and rodents, “may be an indicator of plague.”

Health officials also urged those working, living, camping, or visiting in these areas to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure. Such recommendations include avoiding sick or dead animals, making sure your pets don’t roam loose, and avoiding rodent burrows and fleas.

The plague is an infamous disease mainly known for killing millions of people in Europe during the 1300s in a pandemic dubbed the Black Death. There are three strains of the illness: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic.

Image credit: Geneticliteracyproject.org / History Things
Image credit: Geneticliteracyproject.org / History Things

Plague is usually found in western parts of the U.S.

The CDC says about seven cases of the plague on average are reported each year in the United States, and the majority of the cases are often reported in New Mexico, northwestern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern Oregon and far western Nevada. The bubonic plague is the most common strain of the disease.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a member of the public health committee the Infectious Diseases Society of America and senior associate at John Hopkins Center for Health Security, said that parts of the country are vulnerable to the transmission of the plague.

“Western parts of the United States have had ongoing plague transmission in rodents for over a century,” Adalja told Newsweek.

The CDC also says outbreaks of the disease usually occur during cooler summers that follow wet winters. It’s not the first time the plague is reported this year. In June, New Mexico health officials confirmed three people had contracted the plague in 2017.

Two women, ages 52 and 62, were diagnosed with the disease late June in Santa Fe County. A 63-year-old man had also been diagnosed with the plague about a month earlier. The New Mexico Department of Health said at the time all cases had required hospitalizations, and that there have been no deaths from the plague this year.

NCHD warns cats are ‘highly susceptible’ to the disease

Cases of the plague in the U.S. are rare, and mortality rates are usually low. The CDC says modern antibiotics are effective in treating it but warns that without prompt treatment, the plague can cause serious illness or death. In 2015, four people in the country died from the disease. According to the World Health Organization, there are about 300 cases of the plague each year in the world.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, and a presence of swollen lymph nodes on the groin, neck, or armpits. Those symptoms –from the bubonic form of the illness– are the result of an infected flea bite, as the bacterium multiplies in the lymph node closest to where the virus entered the human body. The plague can become septicemic by spreading throughout the bloodstream, or pneumonic by affecting the lungs.

The Navajo County Health Department also recommended pet owners to be aware of their cats, as they are susceptible to the plague.

“Be aware that cats are highly susceptible to this disease and while they can get sick from a variety of illnesses, a sick cat (especially one allowed to run at large outside) should receive care by a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment to reduce human exposure to plague,” said the health department in the statement.

Source: ABC News