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Disease-Carrying Fleas Sometimes Infest Homes In Arizona And They Are The Same Ones That Caused The Bubonic Plague

Plague-ridden fleas are well known to have facilitated the spread of the most destructive pandemics in history, most notably the bubonic plague. While the plague is no longer considered a serious public health threat, fleas still spread the disease in parts of Africa and even within the western United States. The plague-carrying flea species that exists in the western US is the very same species that spread the plague in Europe centuries ago. This flea species is commonly known as the oriental rat flea, and plague carrying specimens have been spotted in two Arizona counties as recently as 2017.

It may surprise some people to learn that oriental rat fleas exist in the US, but this species can be found worldwide, even ones that carry the plague. Despite this species common name, two researchers, N.C. Rothschild and Karl Jordan, first identified this species in Egypt back in 1903. These fleas are abundant wherever their host animals are found, which are mainly rats. Therefore, ORFs commonly dwell within sewer systems, and they prefer warm and humid tropical and subtropical habitats. ORF species are far less common in cold areas, but they have been found in sub-arctic conditions.

It is certainly not unheard of for homes to become infested with ORFs, as they often accompany rat infestations. Not only have plague-carry fleas of this species been found in Arizona, but a recent study confirmed that numerous rats within New York City also carry the dreaded disease. Researchers collected more than 133 Norway rats in New York City which were infested with 6,500 types of mites, fleas and lice. Of these 6,500 pests, 500 were ORFs. Despite the relatively smaller population of rats within urban areas of the southwest US, more people become infected with the plague in this region than anywhere else in America. In the southwest, ORFs infest prairie dogs and squirrels as their hosts, and roughly 10 people each year become infected with the plague in states like Arizona and California.

Were you aware that plague-carrying fleas are more common in the southwest US than in any other US region?

 

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