Plague Found in High Country Fleas -- No Need to Freak Out, Health Officials Say

If you're like us, you probably thought plague was the last thing you'd have to worry about while living in a relatively clean, industrialized country -- and it still is, despite the discovery of the rare disease in fleas in a remote section of Coconino County.

Coconino County health officials announced today that plague-infected fleas were collected from prairie- dog burrows around Doney Park northeast of Flagstaff. The burrows were monitored because many of the prairie dogs were dying off.

Naturally, we freaked out -- but according to Craig Levy, an epidemiologist with the Arizona Department of Health Services, plague is not that uncommon in Arizona. However, he says, Valley residents don't have to worry about it spreading to our neck of the state.

"This is something that happens from time to time," Levy tells New Times. "This is not abnormal."

Levy says the Southwest is home to about 80 percent of reported plague cases in the United States, with New Mexico reporting the most cases of annually.

Since 1950, Levy says, there has typically been about one case a year popping up in Arizona, although it's become less common in recent years.

Plague is carried by rodents and rabbits, and sometimes by animals that feed on them. It can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea, or by direct contact with an infected animal.

Levy says plague typically is a "higher-elevation problem" as it requires cool temperatures to survive. So, if you live in the Valley -- unless you venture to a remote section of Coconino County and have an encounter with an infected flea -- there's almost no chance of catching the disease.

Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain, and swollen lymph glands.

For more information on plague, see the Centers for Disease Control website here.

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James King
Contact: James King