Fleas in at least two Arizona counties have tested positive for the plague. Yes, the plague.
Plague: it’s not a word you hear very often these days. It’s something you’d likely associate with medieval Europe than modern America. But the plague is still alive and kicking. Between 1900 and 2012, there have been over 1,000 cases of the plague, with 80 percent of them being bubonic plague, the same infection that killed at least 25 million people during the 6th-century outbreak, and a third of human population during the Middle Ages.
The plague was transmitted through fleas, which themselves were transported around by rats. Our living conditions have improved dramatically so we don’t live as closely to rats and fleas as we used to, but the plague never really went away. It resurfaces from time to time in different parts of the world — and now, it’s resurfacing in Arizona.
“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. “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.”
The other county is the Coconino County, where doctors found infected fleas on local prairie dogs. Residents have been warned to pay extra attention, especially when hiking or camping in these areas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that it’s not completely unexpected for something like this to happen. Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar are especially prone for plague resurfacing. Also, nowadays, treatment exists for the disease. If untreated, the disease can spread through the body, but if you detected early, it’s easily curable. If you think you’ve been bitten by a flea in the area, contact your doctor immediately.