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(Neb.)-Sylvatic Plague Confirmed In Oglala National Grasslands

By: Chris Fankhauser Posted at: 05/29/2015 10:35 AM

(Crawford)-The U-S Forest Service says sylvatic plague has been confirmed in black tailed prairie dog colonies on the Oglala National Grassland northwest of Crawford.

      Acting Pine Ridge District Ranger Geri Mason says die-offs of prairie dogs led to the collection of fleas from several prairie dog colonies on the Oglala NG in October and November. They were tested by the University of South Dakota and results recently came back positive for the bacteria that causes plague.

        The same bacterium that causes bubonic and pneumonic plague in humans causes sylvatic plague in wildlife. Only about 10-to-20 human cases of plague are reported in the United States each year, generally contracted in prairie settings.

       Mason says it was first detected in the Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands in 2004 on both the Buffalo Gap and Fort Pierre National Grasslands in South Dakota, and has since spread to the adjacent Badlands National Park and to the Lower Brule Indian Reservation.

       The initial outbreak posed a serious threat to the black-footed ferret, which was successfully reintroduced over 20 years ago in the Conata Basin area of the Buffalo Gap NG and has since been introduced in other locations around the region.

         The Forest Service and other agencies began an aggressive campaign of dusting the entrances of prairie dog colonies with a contact insecticide to kill fleas and keep the plague from spreading, but Mason says there are no plans at this time to extend that into the Oglala NG.

        As for the threat of plague spreading to humans, Mason says prevention is the best remedy. She says to avoid any contact with wild rodents such as prairie dogs, dead or alive, that may have infected fleas, never feed wildlife.  

       She also recommends keeping pets away from prairie dog colonies or dead rodents and to be sure outdoor pets are wearing flea collars to prevent them from bringing in infected fleas.
      More information about the plague can be found at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website at www.cdc.gov.


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