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Bubonic plague and fleas: what you need to know

The “Black Death,” or bubonic plague, is often thought of as a thing of the past, but according to public health officials, this isn’t the case. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 1006 confirmed or probable cases of human plague in the United States from 1900-2012, 80% of which have been bubonic in form.

The threat of bubonic plague is becoming prevalent again these days. Fleas in the Southwest United States, specifically Arizona, have recently been found to be carrying the Yersinia pestis bacteria, a known cause of the Bubonic Plague.

If you have a problem with fleas around your home or property, contact your local Western Exterminator office today to discuss our flea removal and prevention solutions.

Bubonic plague and fleas

Recent bubonic plague cases in Arizona

Recent years have not brought good news to Arizona counties Navajo and Coconino. Infected fleas have been discovered in both locations and public health officials are warning the public to take the necessary precautions to prevent exposure to the plague bacteria. News of these findings comes a few short months after two New Mexico residents were hospitalized with the plague.

History class has given rats a bad reputation for being responsible for spreading “The Black Death,” when in reality, the fleas carried by the rats are the primary culprit. The rodents are at just as much of a risk as we are. The warm climate of the Southwest United States creates an environment in which the Yersinia pestis bacteria can thrive, especially on the backs of the prevalent rodent population of the area. Thus, this area of the United States must take caution.

What is the bubonic plague?

The Bubonic Plague is a bacterial disease that first reared its ugly head in the early 1340s in China, India, Persia, Syria, and Egypt. It then traveled to Europe via the Genoese trading ships arriving in Messina in 1347. The plague went on to kill more than 20 million people over the course of five years. However, this was long before antibiotics and good sanitation practices.

Luckily for us, the plague is now easily treatable, but it’s still a topic of concern. Bacteria infiltrates the lymph nodes and if the disease is not treated, the bacteria can spread to the rest of the body.

What are the symptoms of bubonic plague?

Bubonic Plague is named after the “buboes,” or swollen lymph nodes, that develop in the groin, armpit, or neck soon after transmission of the disease. Symptoms typically arise 2-6 days after exposure to the bacteria. The following is a list of possible symptoms of bubonic plague:

  • Sudden onset of fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue or delirium
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing with blood

With prompt diagnosis and treatment, bubonic plague is curable. Seek medical assistance at the first sign that you might be infected.

How do fleas spread the plague?

In the case of a plague outbreak, many rodents die after being bitten by infected fleas, and then the fleas are forced to search for other sources of food. The flea then carries the bacteria humans, should they bite.

There are more than 2,000 types of fleas in existence, but it is primarily the Oriental Rat Flea that is attributed to the plague bacteria. As its name suggests, this flea mostly feeds on rodents, but can also bite humans and household pets.

The Oriental rat flea can grow to 2.5mm in length, and though adult fleas do not have wings, they are able to jump up to 200 times the length of their bodies. This flea is brown in color and the reproductive organs will be visible in its abdomen.

What do flea bites look like?

Flea bites are small, red bumps surrounded by a halo of similar color. They are very itchy and are often found on legs or feet. Unlike mosquito bites that are often isolated, flea bites will generally occur in clusters.

Flea prevention: tips for pets and home

  • Refrain from letting your pets roam free
  • Utilize flea prevention products on pets
  • Maintain your landscaping to keep grass short and shrubbery cut back. This gives fleas fewer places to hide outdoors!
  • Keep trash tightly closed and do not leave pet food out. Trash and abandoned food will draw wildlife to your home, and in turn, the bacteria they carry!
  • Vacuum frequently to make sure fleas or other pests are not burrowing in your carpet.

You do not have to have pets for fleas to enter your home, so make sure you are taking the necessary precautions, even if you’re not a pet person!

How to get rid of fleas

Fleas are very difficult to get rid of, especially Oriental rat fleas; but if you’d like to attempt it yourself, there are a few things you can try. These remedies often do not work on their own, but they provide a great starting place!

  • vacuum your home
  • wash or replace pet bedding
  • eliminate fleas on pets
  • clean up and treat indoor and outdoor areas where pets rest

The best solution for getting rid of fleas is to call in the experts. Western Exterminator pest control specialists can offer advice and provide solutions that will get rid of the fleas and provide solutions to stop them from coming back. Contact Western Exterminator today!


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