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article imagePlague-laden gopher found in Saskatchewan poses no health risk

By Stephanie Dearing     Aug 16, 2010 in Health
Val Marie - Bubonic plague, the nasty bacterial disease that wiped out hundreds of thousands of people in the middle ages, has been found in a gopher in a Canadian national park.
Park Canada officials are quick to reassure Canadians and visitors, saying the chances of a person actually contracting the plague are very low. But officials wanted the public to be aware of the risks so that park guests could take precautions, reported the Toronto Star. The plague is usually spread through flea bites.
Officials state that only one prairie dog, or gopher, was found to have the disease. The gopher had been found dead and was sent for testing. Officials do not believe an outbreak of the disease is underway, and Grasslands National Park is still open to visitors.
The Government of Saskatchewan said the last known transmission of the plague from an animal to a human in Canada was 1939. That person survived. To prevent any possible transmission, officials recommend that people not walk through prairie dog colonies on foot, and to use insect repellents on shoes and pants. Pets are not allowed to accompany people through the gopher colonies.
Parks Canada says visitors should not to touch any dead animal they may come across in the park, but should report the location of the deceased animal to the Grasslands National Park visitor centre. Reports of dead animals found in the park can also be called in to the centre by dialing 306-298-2257.
The government said the plague was brought to Canada in the 1800s, and has since been found in rodents like ground squirrels, chipmunks, prairie dogs and mice. The bacteria, Yersinia pestis, has also been found in farm dogs and cats, coyotes and fleas in southern Saskatchewan.
Health Canada said the Yersinia pestis can cause three forms of illness: "Bubonic plague is the most common. The infection appears in the lymph nodes, causing them to swell and become painful. Infection results from the bite of an infected flea that has fed on an infected rodent, such as a rat.
Pneumonic plague is the most deadly form of plague but least common. It can be spread through airborne droplets released through coughs or sneezes, or through contact with infected body fluids. It can also be spread through contact with clothing or bed linens that have been contaminated with infected body fluids.
Septicemic plague can occur with either bubonic or pneumonic plague."
There currently is an outbreak of bubonic plague in Peru. The AFP reports three people have died of the disease, and up to 31 people are sick. It is believed that the outbreak is linked to a recent event when rabid bats reportedly attacked 500 people in the northeast of Peru said WKRG.
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