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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Plague not a UA concern

    Bubonic plague appeared for the first time in Arizona in seven years last month after an Apache County woman was bitten by fleas, though the risk in Pima County remains low, campus health officials said.

    Bubonic plague is a serious and possibly deadly disease, but the UA community can rest easy, as Pima County is unlikely to suffer an outbreak, said Harry McDermott, director of Campus Health Service.

    “”Students in

    Students in Tucson are not at risk for contracting the bubonic plague because of our desert climate and lower elevations.

    -Harry McDermott,
    director, Campus Health Service

    Tucson are not at risk for contracting the bubonic plague because of our desert climate and lower elevations,”” McDermott said.

    Bubonic plague killed one-third of Europeans in the 1300s. The epidemic spurred a public interest in improved cleanliness and garbage collection, said Will Humble, assistant director of public health preparedness for the Arizona Department of Health Services.

    Areas above 4,500 feet in elevation, such as counties in northern Arizona, are most at risk to foster the illness, Humble said.

    “”Flagstaff is currently a hotspot for the plague (due to) large numbers of prairie dog colonies dying off,”” he said.

    The disease is often spread to humans by fleas, rodents and other small animals through handling of dead animal carcasses, he added.

    Catching the plague and treating it early is essential, as 50 to 90 percent of those infected die from the disease if not treated, McDermott said. The death rate drops to 10 to 20 percent when the proper treatments are implemented.

    The Apache County woman, who had shown preliminary symptoms of the disease, was treated with antibiotics and remains in good condition. Apache County is in northeastern Arizona.

    Symptoms of bubonic plague include fever, chills, headaches, weakness and swelling in the groin or armpits, McDermott said.

    “”The plague is treated with certain antibiotics and Campus Health does carry several of those antibiotics,”” he said.

    Of the 48 cases of plague reported over the past 30 years in Arizona, eight have resulted in deaths, according to a news release by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

    The lack of reported infections in the last seven years can be attributed to recent droughts and high temperatures, the release said.

    The illness is also being countered by attempts to fight the disease at its sources.

    Insecticide is often used to eliminate fleas carrying the bacteria within prairie dog communities, a process that “”works pretty good,”” Humble said.

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