Plague-Infected Fleas Found On Prairie Dogs In Northern Arizona

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 - 11:22am
Updated: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 - 11:54am

Prairie dogs in northern Arizona have tested positive for the black plague.

Nathan Gonzalez with the Arizona Game and Fish Department said crews with the department and the Kaibab National Forest recently dusted prairie dog holes near Red Lake outside of Williams. They also dusted 1.3 square miles near Garland Prairie.

In the meantime, he cautioned people to not touch dead animals in the region.

"You're also going to want to keep an eye on your pets," he said. "Make sure they're not roaming loose in areas that have been impacted by infected fleas."

Because prairie dogs are very social creatures that live in tight-knit colonies, they are particularly vulnerable to the infected fleas.

RELATED: Arizona Researchers Test Edible Plague Vaccine For Prairie Dogs

"That's why colonies are good indicators if fleas are around, because if one animal is infected it spreads it so quickly through the colony it could wipe out an entire colony," Gonzalez said.

Getting to the colonies before the fleas jump on more migratory animals like foxes and coyotes is key to containing the Yersinia pestis bacteria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Yersinia pestis still persists in third-world regions and occasionally appears in the Southwest United States.

People are most commonly infected when bitten by the flea, but they can also acquire it when in direct contact or breathing in air-borne particles from an infected animal.

Initial symptoms are flu-like fever, chills, muscle fatigue, and painful swollen lymph glands.

Anyone with time spent in the northern Arizona and experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor immediately.

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