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Biological Hazard – Mass Die-off of Prairie dogs, Bubonic Plague (Update): Arizona


Published Date: 2017-08-07 12:26:07
Subject: PRO/AH/EDR> Plague, animal – USA (11): (AZ) bubonic, prairie dog, die-off
Archive Number: 20170807.5233248

Date: Fri 4 Aug 2017
Source: White Mountain Independent [edited]

The Apache County [Arizona] Health Department recently notified the public about a new prairie dog die-off in Concho. A previous die-off was reported in early July [2017].

A notice posted on the Apache County website states: “The Health Department has received an additional report of another prairie dog die-off in Old Concho.”

The notice bluntly states that “Old Concho is now considered a plague-positive area.” The die-off occurred earlier in July [2017].

Fleas, and the rodents they commonly live on and feed off of, act as hosts for the life cycle of the bubonic plague bacteria, _Yersinia pestis_. Prairie dogs are quite susceptible to the disease and die quickly. Since their hosts are dead and the fleas can no longer get a meal of blood from them, the insects abandon their hosts who die deep in their burrows. They climb up and hang out near the entrance of the burrow, hoping to catch a ride and a meal on another passing animal, usually another rodent.

The new area of infestation is on the opposite side of Highway 61 northwest from the original infestation. A map of the affected area has been posted on the Apache County website.

“They both happened during the same time period. If it was the same mode of transmission, I don’t know,” said Apache County Public Health Director Chris Sexton. Sexton said he could not be sure if rodents or some other type of animal is moving the fleas around Concho.

The most recent die-off occurred on vacant land in an area with a smaller number of prairie dog burrows. Sexton said it was about 300 feet [about 91.5 m] to the nearest residence. He did not say who reported the die-off.

The property where the previous prairie dog die-off occurred was recently treated for fleas. A crew from Coconino County Public Health dusted the affected burrows with an insecticide to kill any fleas that were still alive.

On [13 Jul 2017], Dr Joe Busch, a staff scientist with the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute at Northern Arizona University, took samples of fleas from burrows where the die-off occurred at the property. 10 percent of the fleas sampled tested positive for the bubonic plague bacteria.

Sexton said that the burrows in the area of the most recent die-off will not be dusted because the property owners cannot be reached. He said the dusting crew must have the owner’s permission before entering their property. Apache County does not conduct insecticide dusting of prairie dog burrows — they contract with Coconino County for that work. Sexton said Coconino County staffers were unable to reach the property owners. No one from Apache County has attempted to contact them, he said.

Sexton was not concerned about the bacteria spreading from the untreated burrows, noting that no die-offs had been reported in Concho Valley. “If this was something highly transmissible, like measles or flu, we would take more precautions,” he said.

The US averages about 7 cases of plague in humans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control, although the disease did cause 4 deaths in 2015. Most US cases are in Arizona and New Mexico, according to a map on the CDC website.

Jeff Nafziger, an environmental health specialist with Navajo County, confirmed [Tue 1 Aug 2017] that a prairie dog die-off had occurred somewhere near Taylor, but he did not give a specific location. Nafziger said the situation was under investigation and that plague bacteria had not been confirmed at that site. A crew from Northern Arizona University may take flea samples from the area for testing next week.

Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts

[Plague is primarily a disease of wild rodents. It is caused by the bacterium _Yersinia pestis_ ,which is mainly spread by the bites of infectious fleas. The bacterium is not native to North America. When it was introduced, it became established in some rodent populations, with prairie dogs one of the main species contributing to its maintenance. Humans and their companion animals are at risk of becoming infected if they are exposed to rodent fleas. – Mod.PMB

The state of Arizona can be located on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at A county map can be seen at – Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]

See Also

Plague – USA (10): (AZ,TX) bubonic, prairie dogs, fleas 20170723.5197563
Plague – USA (09): (TX) prairie dog, alert 20170704.5150405
Plague – USA (08): (NM) 20170626.5132081
Plague – USA (07): (CO) feline 20170615.5108564
Plague – USA (06): (NM) 20170606.5087671
Plague – USA (05): (CO) feline, bubonic, alert: corr 20170506.5017288
Plague – USA (05): (CO) feline, bubonic, alert 20170505.5014699
Plague – USA (04): (NM) feral cat, alert 20170419.4980169
Plague – USA (03): (NM) feline, canine 20170412.4965194
Plague – USA (02): (CO) prairie dog, alert 20170318.4910519
Plague – USA: (NM) canine 20170211.4832639

Plague – USA (05): (NM) human ex prairie dog 20160903.446342
Plague, animal – USA (06): (CO): bubonic, feline 20160921.4503709
Plague, animal – USA (08): (MT) ferret, prairie dog, drone-delivered vaccine 20160714.4345331
Plague, animal – USA (07): (CA) squirrel 20160702.4322943
Plague, animal – USA (06): (ID) cat recovering, ground squirrel 20160616.4290356
Plague, animal – USA (05): (ID) domestic cat, ground squirrel 20160615.4287888
Plague, animal – USA (04): (CO) feral cat, alert 20160606.4267825
Plague, animal – USA (03): (ID) ground squirrel, domestic cat, susp 20160604.4265294
Plague, animal – USA (02): (WY) feline 20160423.4178118
Plague, animal – USA: (NM) pets 20160117.3944780

Plague, animal – USA: (ID) ground squirrel, alert 20150529.3394344

Plague, animal – USA (05): (CA) squirrel 20140804.2656788
Plague – USA (04): (NM) 20140803.2656232
Plague – USA (03): (CO) cluster from canine exposure 20140719.2621418
Plague, animal – USA: (NM) zoo 20140729.2643587
Plague – USA (02): (CO) pneumonic 20140710.2600593
Plague – USA: (NM) pneumonic 20140425.2430602

Plague – USA (04): (NM) fatality 20131102.2035269
Plague – USA (03): (NM) bubonic 20130927.1972093
Plague – USA (02): (NM) bubonic 20130910.1935879
Plague – USA: (NM) 20130813.1878261
Plague, animal – USA (04): (CA) squirrel 20130727.1848788
Plague, animal – USA (03): (NM) canine, alert 20130627.1794260
Plague, animal – USA (02): (CA) squirrel, alert 20130619.1781960
Plague, squirrel – USA: (CA) alert 20130518.1720992

Plague – USA (05): (OR), 2nd case 20120916.1296380
Plague – USA (04): (CO) septicemic 20120828.1269118
Plague – USA (03): (OR) septicemic, recovery 20120719.1206257
Plague – USA (02): (OR), septicemic 20120612.1165863
Plague – USA: (NM) 20120601.1153277

Plague – USA (05): (OR), septicemic 20110920.2855
Plague, animal – USA (04): (NM) canine 20110701.1999
Plague, animal – USA (03): (CO) 20110612.1792
Plague, animal – USA (02): (OR) feline 20110610.1773
Plague – USA (03): (NM) bubonic 20110530.1655
Plague – USA (02): (NM) bubonic 20110510.1439
Plague, animal – USA: (NM) canine, feline 20110421.1240
Plague – USA: (OR), 2010, bubonic, CDC 20110224.0615
Plague, fatal – USA: (IL), 2009, lab strain, CDC 20110224.061
Plague – USA: (OR), 2010, bubonic, CDC 20110224.0615
Plague, fatal – USA: (IL), 2009, lab strain, CDC 20110224.0614

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases

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