Monthly plague monitoring to start at the Grand Canyon

Published: Jun. 9, 2015 at 12:13 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 23, 2015 at 12:13 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The National Park Service and the Coconino County Public Health Services District will begin monitoring the area for plague at various locations around the Grand Canyon's South Rim, this will be done on a monthly basis. The purpose for the program is to monitor public areas for the presence of plague and if detected start an action plan to prevent the possibility of it spreading to the public.

According to a recent release from the NPS this monitoring involves trapping and anesthetizing squirrels, removing fleas found on the squirrels and testing the fleas for the plague.  This testing will go on through September 2015.

While the plague is a rare, sometimes fatal, disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is primarily a disease of animals but can be transmitted to humans through the bites of rodent fleas or by direct contact with infected animals. Plague is considered endemic in northern Arizona at elevations above 4500 feet (1372 m).  An average of 1-2 human cases of plague are reported each year in Arizona; the last human case in Arizona occurred in 2008. Grand Canyon visitors and residents should be aware that plague activity increases during summer months in the Southwest and take appropriate precautions to minimize risk of exposure.

Those living, working, or visiting areas where plague is known to be present should take the following precautions to reduce their risk of exposure:

-Do not touch or feed wildlife, including rodents.

-Avoid exposure to rodent burrows, fleas and wild animals.

-Prevent pets from roaming loose.

-Control fleas on pets with flea collars or flea sprays routinely.

-Use insect repellant when visiting or working in areas where plague might be active or rodents might be present.

-If your job duties require you to handle sick or dead animals, wear appropriate personal protective equipment and consult an NPS wildlife veterinarian, as needed.

-Domestic cats and dogs are susceptible to plague. Pet owners should take their ill pets to a veterinarian for evaluation, as needed.

If you have questions, please contact your NPS Public Health Consultant at 928-638-7355 or by cell 202-641-3582. For more information about plague and other zoonotic diseases, visit


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