Fleas in northern Arizona test positive for plague

FLAGSTAFF, AZ - Public health officials say that fleas collected in northern Arizona have tested positive for plague.

In a Thursday release, officials said fleas located in the Doney Park area tested positive for the disease. Last week, fleas collected in the Red Lake area, also tested positive.

The Coconino County Public Health Services District (CCPHSD) is reportedly notifying residents, and the burrows located on private property will be treated. Officials will closely be monitoring the area to determine if further action is necessary.

The CCPHSD is urging the public to take precautions and limit their risk of exposure to the disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits, and predators that feed on those animals. The disease can also be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or contact with an infected animal.

Officials said because the plague is endemic in Coconino County, there are likely additional locations with infected fleas. Tests are continuing in the area as crews monitor the situation.

Navajo County 

Fleas collected in the Taylor area also tested positive for yersinia pestis, officials said on Friday. 

The area where the fleas were located is being treated but has been closed as officials determine what more to do.

Officials are urging residents to reduce their exposure to the disease. Dogs are encouraged to be kept on leashes. Cats are highly susceptible to the plague; sicks cats, especially ones that are allowed to roam outside, should receive a proper diagnosis and treatment to reduce human exposure. 

Authorities also say a sudden die-off of prairie dogs and rodents may indicate that the plague is present or has spread. Anyone who has noticed a sudden decrease in rodents or rabbits are encouraged to contact the Navajo County Health Department. 

Exposure, symptoms, and prevention 

Officials said symptoms of the plague contracted in humans appear within two to six days after exposure; the symptoms include headaches, weakness, muscle pain, fever, chills and swollen lymph nodes in the armpits, limbs or in the groin. 

The plague can spread through the bloodstream and affect the lungs, but it is curable with proper antibiotic treatment and if diagnosed early. 

Officials in Navajo County released the following tips for those who work, live or visit areas where the plague or where rodents are present:

  • "Do not handle sick or dead animals.
  • 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 through respiratory droplets.

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

  • Avoid rodent burrows and fleas.

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

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

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

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