Jan 20, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Bubonic Plague Reported in Arizona

Apr 07, 2015 10:35 PM EDT

The Black Death, that was thought to have disappeared hundreds of years ago is back and it has chosen Flagstaff, Arizona as its most recent home.

Health officials and wildlife managers in Arizona are actively monitoring flea infestations after some specimens in the area tested positive for the bacteria called Yersinia pestis, more commonly known as the Bubonic Plague.

Officials in the area shared their concern after they had been notified of a prairie dog den in Picture Canyon near Flagstaff which had a substantially and strangely high number of dead or dying animals. So officials began testing the burrow and the surrounding areas, noting that the Black Death was, indeed, to blame.

Randy Philips, the division manager of local health services district, comments, "It looked like something that could be associated with death due to the plague."

Accordingly, the Arizona Department of Health Services advises, "Plague activity in nature has been known to wax and wane over time, and this is influenced largely by climate conditions and rodent and flea populations."

Arizona is no stranger to the plague, having experienced 64 cases of the disease since 1950, when the first human case of the disease occurred. Since that time, the state has averaged approximately 2 cases each year. The last time the disease was found in the state was in September 2014, when fleas in Doney Park tested positive for the bacteria.

As climate change worsens, species such as rodents and humans will begin to mix much more frequently, which could lead to a rise in these kinds of outbreaks. Humans usually contract the plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that carries the bacteria or by handling an animal infected with the plague, according to the CDC.

To prevent the disease from spreading to humans, people should not let their pets roam freely and should treat them with flea prevention medications. People should also wear insect repellents when they are hiking or working in areas that could contain fleas.

Plague symptoms include fever, headache, pain or swelling in the groin, armpit or neck, weakness, and, in some cases, nausea and usually appear two to six days after the initial infection.

Today, modern antibiotics have taken away much of the fear surrounding the Bubonic Plague, as they are effective in treating the disease. However, it can still result in severe illness and even death if it isn't promptly treated.

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