Ask Dr. Richards

May 2007 Issue

Ask Dr. Richards: 05/07

But the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, widely held to be the cause of the Black Death of antiquity is alive and well, causing roughly 1,000 to 2,000 human cases of plague every year, primarily in rural areas of developing countries. Requisites for the disease’s persistence are the availability of rodent (or sometimes rabbit) "reservoirs" with the ability to reproduce to high numbers, the year-round feeding of appropriate flea "vectors" and the proper environmental conditions. In the United States, the majority of cases in reservoir rodents — usually rock squirrels, ground squirrels and prairie dogs — occurs in the Southwest, but infected animals may be seen anywhere west of the Rockies. During heavy outbreaks in these animals, cases have been detected as far east as Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Most human cases of plague in the U.S. arise from two areas: one in the region encompassing southern Colorado and northern New Mexico and Arizona, and the other encompassing western Nevada, California and southern Oregon.

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