PLAGUE fighters are killing off fleas carrying the Black Death after three people were stricken with world’s most feared disease.
Health officials are targeting rodent burrows to thwart the risk of an epidemic just weeks after an outbreak put the three victims in hospital.
Urgent action to wipe out flea infestations in prairie dog burrows in two parts of Arizona has been ordered after scientists confirmed the insects were carrying the same plague that wiped out a quarter of humanity in the 1300s.
Besides tackling the infestations, public health officials in Arizona are putting out warnings to reduce the risk of people contracting plague by preventing pets from running loose as well as avoiding rodent burrows. Confirmation that fleas were carrying the bacteria that causes plague, Yersinia pestis, came this week after positive tests at two sites near Flagstaff.
In June, three people needed hospital treatment after contracting plague 400 miles east in Santa Fee County, New Mexico.
Health officials carried out extensive checks around the homes of the victims, who included a 52-year-old and a 62-year-old woman, to “ensure the safety of the immediately family and neighbours”.
New Mexico witnessed four plague cases in 2016 in Bernalillo, Mora and Rio Arriba counties but with no fatalities. In 2015, one person died when four plague cases were reported in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.
For a pandemic that killed as many as 200 million people across Europe and Asia in the 14th Century, bubonic plague still resists total eradication globally, throwing up thousands of cases every year.
The western states of the USA witness annual reports, largely because its native rodent species, such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs, act as vectors in the same way as the black rats that spread the medieval plague across most of the known world.
Arizona’s Coconino County Public Health Services District, confirming the latest positive results, said the disease is “endemic” in the area and urged 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”.
Its public warning added: “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.“
Symptoms of plague in humans generally appear within two to six days following exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain, and swollen lymph glands – called ‘buboes’ – in the groin, armpits or limbs.
“The disease can become septicaemic – spreading throughout the bloodstream – as well as pneumonic – affecting the lungs – but is curable with proper antibiotic therapy if diagnosed and treated early.”
During the recent New Mexico outbreak, doctors warned how pets could play a worrying role in spreading the disease.“Pets that are allowed to roam and hunt can bring infected fleas from dead rodents back into the home, putting you and your children at risk,” said Dr Paul Ettestad, a public health veterinarian for the Department of Health.
“Keeping your pets at home or on a leash and using an appropriate flea control product is important to protect you and your family.”
“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 warning states, ABC news reported. “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.”
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a public health committee member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and senior associate at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security says the area of the country is vulnerable to the transmission of the plague bacterium.
“Western parts of the United States have had ongoing plague transmission in rodents for over a century,” he says.
Although incidents of plague are minimal these days the risk still exists so people should be vigilant “when dealing with rodents and clear areas of their property that may be attractive to rodents,” says Adalja. He adds that it’s also important for health care providers to be aware of cases and learn to spot symptoms of illness, and to be aware of diagnostic testing and treatment protocols for the illness.
The infectious bacteria that causes plague is rare in the U.S. today. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention, an average of seven human cases are diagnosed each year. In 2015, four people in the U.S died from the illness. Worldwide there are roughly 300 cases of the plague each year, according to the World Health Organization.
Symptoms of the plague include sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, and weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes (called buboes). This form is usually the result of an infected flea bite. The bacteria multiply in the lymph node closest to where the bacteria entered the human body. The disease can be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics, but left untreated the plague can spread to other parts of the body. Without appropriate medical care the illness can be deadly; up to 60 percent of people infected with the pathogen die from it.
Sources: Newsweek and 00Fast News