Last updated: 10:33 AM ET, Fri June 12 2015

Grand Canyon Officials Testing Animals for Plague

Impacting Travel | Donald Wood | June 12, 2015

Grand Canyon Officials Testing Animals for Plague

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Visiting the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is one of the top vacation destinations each year, but there are concerns from park officials about local squirrels, mice and prairie dogs carrying a form of the bubonic plague.

According to Felicia Fonseca of The Associated Press, Grand Canyon officials are warning visitors to stay away from all wildlife during this time of year due to the possibility of rodents and other wild animals contracting the plague from fleas infected with Yersinia pestis bacteria.

Between the height of the Grand Canyon and the temperatures in Arizona, it is the ideal breeding location for the fleas that carry the disease, which could then transmit it to the animals. Earlier this year, Coconino County health officials discovered fleas that tested positive for Y. pestis near northeast Flagstaff, Arizona.

To ensure that the plague doesn’t make its way to the Grand Canyon, park officials are trapping small rodents near the popular South Rim in order to test the fleas in their fur. Last year, health officials trapped 33 squirrels and tested all 267 fleas collected, all testing negative.

The Grand Canyon’s public health consultant, Martin Stephens, told The AP that the park will continue to test the animals throughout the summer and as long as needed. Visitors are recommended to stay away from all animals, especially those that are deceased.

The plague can be spread through contact with infected animals.

With the most recent death from the plauge at the park coming in 2007—a man performed a necropsy on an infected animal without gloves or a respirator—park officials have installed signs warning patrons to avoid the animals and are continuing to test the rodents in key tourist areas.

The Grand Canyon is still an ideal destination for the millions of people who visit the park each year, it is just imperative that tourists do not feed the animals and do not touch them, regardless of the circumstances.

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