Fleas Test Positive for Plague in Picture Canyon

640px-HookeFlea01FLAGSTAFF — Coconino County Public Health Services District (CCPHSD) officials confirmed that fleas collected in Picture Canyon, a popular hiking area located in northeast Flagstaff, tested positive for plague (Yersinia pestis).

Picture Canyon is located east of Highway 89 North, and north of Interstate 40 and Old Route 66.

The tests were recently conducted by the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University.

CCPHSD Environmental Health staff collects and tests flea samples from locations throughout the County. The recent samples were collected from burrows located along the Picture Canyon hiking trails. Visitors to the area are asked to avoid rodent burrows and keep dogs on a leash as required by Arizona State law.

The CCPHSD and the City of Flagstaff have notified nearby residents of the situation and posted signage at the trailheads. The burrows are being treated and the area will be closely monitored to determine if further action is required.

This positive test is the first evidence of plague activity reported in the County this year. While this is the only location within the County where the plague has been confirmed, the disease is endemic to areas throughout the County and may be more widespread.

The CCPHSD is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in rodents, rabbits, and sometimes 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.

Symptoms in humans generally appear within two to six days following exposure and include the following: fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain, and swollen lymph glands (called “buboes”) in the groin, armpits, or limbs. The disease can become septicemic (spreading throughout the bloodstream) and/or pneumonic (affecting the lungs), but is curable with proper antibiotic therapy if diagnosed and treated early.

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