In the past two weeks, public health officials from two Arizona regions – Navajo and Coconino – have confirmed that the fleas have been tested positively for Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague.
The disease can be transmitted to humans or other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal. Officials recommended that pets should not be left free because they can expose themselves to the bacterium, writes Science Alert.
Symptoms of plague occur in humans after 2-6 days after exposure and include fever, chills, headaches, muscle pain and swollen lymph nodes in the groin, subradial and limb areas.
The disease can become septic, spreading through the blood and/or pneumonia, affecting the lungs, but if diagnosed and treated in the early stages, it can be cured with antibiotics.
Also, this is not an isolated incident. A few months ago, New Mexico officials confirmed that two Santa Fe County residents arrived in the hospital after being infected with the plague.
The bacterium is still remarkably similar to what has been identified as a cause of Black Death.
Although rats and other rodents are often associated with plague, fleas are the ones who can carry and transmit bacteria further through bites. The plague kills rodents and other animals as well as humans. Often, the first sign of the plague is the sudden increase in the number of deaths among these animals.
In the United States and beyond, Y. pestis, prefers warm and arid climates, but can also get into wetter and more temperate areas.