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Public health officials have confirmed that fleas collected near Country Club Drive south of Soliere Avenue have tested positive for plague. Signs have been posted by the Coconino Public Health Services District in the infected area and burrows have been treated.

The area will be closely monitored to determine if further action is required.

This is the fourth location within Coconino County where fleas have tested positive for plague this year. The disease is endemic in the county and 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 recent flea tests were conducted by the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University.

Plague can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and sometimes 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. 

A sudden reduction in the rodent population, such as prairie dogs and mice, may be an indicator of plague in an area. People who notice a sudden die-off of rodents or rabbits are urged to contact the Public Health Services District at 928-679-8750.

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 (called “buboes”) in the groin, armpits or limbs. 

To limit possible exposure, people are encouraged to avoid rodent burrows and keep dogs on a leash as required by state law. People who do find themselves living, working, camping or visiting in areas where plague and/or rodents are known to be present are urged to take the following precautions to reduce their risk of exposure:

1. Do not handle sick or dead animals.

2. Prevent pets from roaming loose. Pets can pick up the infected fleas of wild animals, and then pass fleas on to their human owners. This is one of the common ways for humans to contract plague. Cats with plague can also pass the disease on to humans directly thorough respiratory droplets.

3. De-flea pets routinely. Contact your veterinarian for specific recommendations.

4. Avoid rodent burrows and fleas.

5. Use insect repellents when visiting or working in areas where plague might be active or rodents might be present (campers, hikers, woodcutters and hunters).

6. Wear rubber gloves and other protection when cleaning and skinning wild animals.

7. Do not camp next to rodent burrows and avoid sleeping directly on the ground.

8. 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.

9. In case of illness see your physician immediately as treatment with antibiotics is very effective.

More information is available at https://www.cdc.gov/plague/.

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Environment, Health and Science Reporter

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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