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article imageWith plague concerns in China, scientists look at spread of fleas

By Michael Krebs     Aug 5, 2009 in Science
As concern spreads over the advancement of pneumonic plague in China, researchers look at the spread of plague-carrying fleas and the global impact their distribution represents.
Pneumonic plague has claimed three victims in China, driving a new concern from the World Health Organization on the territorial spread of the fleas that carry the highly-infectious and deadly disease.
"Plague-spreading fleas are expanding their territory, putting more people at risk of catching the lethal illness, a World Health Organization official said," according to a Bloomberg report on Wednesday.
Pneumonic plague is a bacterial disease that causes pneumonia among those infected. Bubonic plague, the most common form of the infectious disease, was responsible for the death of millions in medieval Europe and is an ongoing ecological problem in parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Bubonic plague enters through the skin and infects the lymph system. Without treatment it kills roughly 50 percent of its victims within 3-7 days. In contrast, pneumonic plague is considerably more rare and more virulent than the more common bubonic plague.
Both plague varieties are spread by fleas, and scientists are concerned about the broader spread of plague-carrying fleas.
"Areas where it circulates among rodents and the fleas that feed on them are widening, and increased human activity in central Asia and other affected areas is heightening the risk of human infection, said Eric Bertherat, a WHO doctor who has investigated outbreaks for eight years," Bloomberg reported.
The World Health Organization is working with Chinese authorities to help contain the spread of the disease.
“There have been sporadic cases in very small numbers reported in this part of China in recent years, so we are hoping that the current situation will, like before, be contained,” Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the WHO in Beijing, told Bloomberg Television. “We are working with the authorities to make sure that happens.”
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