Fleas Test Positive for Plague in Arizona: What It Means

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PetMD Editorial
Published: August 15, 2017

Public health officials in two northern Arizona counties have issued warnings that fleas in the area tested positive for plague. 

Fleas carrying Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, were discovered in Navajo and Coconino counties. The Navajo County Health Department released a statement 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." 

This isn't the first time plague has been reported in this region of the United States. Back in April, a feral cat that was infected with the plague in New Mexico died from the disease, and a dog in a nearby region was also affected. Thankfully, to date, no pets in Arizona have been reported to have the disease yet. 

Dr. Kim Chalfant of La Cueva Animal Hospital in Albuquerque told petMD earlier this year that flea prevention is key for concerned pet parents in areas with plague. "Make sure your pet is treated with an effective flea preventative," Chalfant said. "There are some preventatives that actually repel fleas and keep them from biting, while others kill the parasite after it has fed on the pet. The most effective prevention in this case is something repellent, as the bite can still spread the disease."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plague occurs after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium, or by handling an animal infected with plague. 

Symptoms of plague can include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, dehydration, and, in some cases, enlarged and painful lymph nodes. 

If people suspect their pet has been exposed to plague bacteria, they should seek veterinary care immediately. If detected in time, plague can be treated. 

Image via Shutterstock 

Read more: Flea Infestation Guide: How to Kill and Get Rid of Fleas