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Black Plague-infected fleas surface in two different Arizona counties last week.

Mass grave of bubonic plague victims in Martigues, France

In the 1300s, the Black Plague decimated Europe killing more than half of the population. Even today, mention of the plague sends chills up our spine. Well, bundle up tight. Fleas carrying Black Plague have been found in at least two different Arizona counties and officials are warning residents about hiking in areas where fleas, or dead animals, may be present.

The infected fleas were first found last week on local prairie dogs in Coconino County. This week, fleas carrying the plague were found in Navajo County. County officials warned residents:

“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 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 Black Death event in 1346 killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people across Europe. Today, the plague appears occasionally in sub-Saharan Africa but rarely in First World countries like the United States. Without treatment, it results in the death of 30% to 90% of those infected. Even with treatment, 1 in 10 infected persons die. Authorities are unsure if uncharacteristically warm weather is contributing to the spread of the pathogen.

Symptoms of the plague include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and severely swollen lymph nodes (in the groin, armpit, or neck). Symptoms worsen and include extreme weakness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding from mouth, nose, or rectum, and blackening and death of tissue (gangrene) in extremities (commonly fingers, toes, and nose).

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