About 10 to 20 Americans are afflicted with bubonic plague each year, and 1 to 3 die from the infection according to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA. The natural reservoir of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, are Â prairie dogs and ferrets, and fleas that infest those colonies can transfer it to squirrels, rats and mice, who like to live close to humans and their flea-carrying pets. Most of the reported cases of plaque occur in the so-called Four Corners, where Utah, Arizon, New Mexico and Colorado meet, and most victims live in rodent-infested rural dwellings.Â
A study in this month’s issue of The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene tracked climatic conditions in 195 counties in 13 Western states, from Washington to Texas, that reported even one plague case since 1950. Cases have dropped over time, and the study concluded that rising nighttime temperatures since 1990 had helped. Warmer nights melt winter snowpacks earlier, leading to drier soil in rodent burrows. When the soil gets too dry, fleas die and transmission of Y. pestis is much reduced.Â
While a reduction in the incidence of bubonic plague may be a good thing, it certainly doesn’t offset the potential catastrophic effects that may result if global warming is not kept in check!Â
Despite the fearsome reputation the disease earned in the Dark Ages, plague can be easily treated with antibiotics if it is caught early enough. Also, improvements in sanitation and urban livings conditions has relegated plague to be classified as an endemic and ancient disease.
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