confessions of an entomologist

Bring out your dead…

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Beautiful illustration of a flea by Robert Hooke

This is a follow up to Monday’s post.  Or maybe a continuation.  Or you can just look at it as more entomological awesomeness.  Since the previous post was talking about plagues of insects, it segues perfectly into talking about the plague.  Yes, THE plague.  The black death.  The bubonic plague.  While most people are familiar with the pandemics occurring in the 1300’s and into the 1400’s many are surprised when they find out it is still around today.  Not only that, it is not just a “third world” problem but it is currently present in the U.S.

The disease is caused by a bacteria (Yersinia pestis).  In researching this, I just learned it is named after Alexander Yersin who successfully isolated the bacteria in 1894.  For the entomolgical savvy, you know that it is spread by infected fleas.  Rodents and small mammals that are infected are bitten by fleas, which can then bite humans, and transfer the bacteria, thus causing the disease in people.

In the last couple of days, a couple of cases have been diagnosed in the US and traced back to Yosemite National Park.  Currently, they are finding infected squirrels that are believed to be the host.  A recent article cited Colorado Health Department officials saying that the increase in cases this year is partly due to the increase in rodent populations and the decrease in predator populations.  The CDC has some nice graphics on
occurrences and distribution of plague cases in the US.  And hot off the press, the CDC has had 11 reported cases since April of this year.

But don’t panic, the risk is low.  Being informed (more facts here), avoiding interactions with rodents, and keeping your pets flea-free in areas that could harbor the disease is advisable.  Information is power and entomological information is super power!

National Museum of Health and Medicine
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