An adult female in northern Arizona is recovering from Arizona’s first case of plague since 2000 after she contracted the disease from a flea bite in early September, said Arizona Department of Health Services spokeswoman Janey Pearl.
Several prairie dogs in a Coconino County community northeast of Flagstaff developed the disease, which infects rodents and other small animals. The plague is most commonly spread to humans by flea bites or direct contact with an infected animal.
Pearl said the woman who developed the plague was bitten by a flea at her home in Apache County and was treated with antibiotics.
Even though the plague that is around today comes from the same bacteria as the plague known as the “Black Death” in the 1300s, it is not the same thing, Pearl said.
“I know when people hear the word 'plague,’ they get scared,” she said. “Back then, people didn’t take the precautions that we take now, and now we have antibiotics to treat it.”
According to a news release issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services, eight of the 48 cases reported in Arizona during the last 30 years were fatal. During the last six years, the risk has been fairly low because of droughts and high temperatures.
In Arizona, plague usually arises in high elevation areas above 4,500 feet, according to the news release. For that reason, residents of Maricopa County are at a lower risk than people in areas of northern Arizona.
“I’m not going to say there is no threat, but it’s really just happening in higher altitudes,” Pearl said. “I would warn people here who are going up there, and if anyone has family up there, spread the word.”
Early diagnosis of the disease is the key because it responds well to antibiotics. Signs of the disease include flu-like symptoms and often a painful, enlarged lymph node on the body.
For information about plague, visit www.azdhs.gov/phs/oids/vector/plague/index.htm.