Prairie dog 1
Nina Grimaldi, Courtesy

Fleas collected in prairie dog burrows in the Red Lake area, about five miles northeast of Williams, have tested positive for plague.

Officials with the Coconino County Public Health Services District were notified of the possible plague outbreak by a resident who noticed a die-off of a prairie dog colony on their property, said Trish Lees, spokeswoman with the health services district. 

The burrows are being treated and the area will be closely monitored to determine if further action is required. Lees said the prairie dog burrows are on private land and there are no trails or other public recreational amenities in the area. 

According to a county press release, this is the first location in the county where fleas have tested positive for plague this year. The disease is endemic in Coconino County, however, so there are likely additional locations with infected fleas. Health department staff will continue to collect and test flea samples from locations throughout the county.

The health department urges the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and predators that feed upon these animals. 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. To limit possible exposure, people are encouraged to avoid rodent burrows and keep dogs on a leash as required by Arizona state law.

Symptoms of plague in humans generally appear within two to six days following exposure and include the following: fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain and swollen lymph glands in the groin, armpits or limbs. The disease can spread throughout the bloodstream and/or affect the lungs, but is curable with proper antibiotic therapy if diagnosed and treated early.

 

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Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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