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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Epizoology and response to the bioweapon use of the plague organism, Yersinia pestis, in commensal rodents

  • Author(s): Borchert, Jeff N.
  • et al.

The increased risk of terrorism with biological agents has been well documented. In response, the United States has established an extensive infrastructure to counteract deliberate disease epidemics that would follow bioterrorism attacks. The plague organism, Yersinia pestis, has been identified as a Category A biological agent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The response to the use of Y. pestis as a bioweapon, aerosolized and released to a target population, would first involve the treatment and containment of the disease in humans. As the initial impacts of the first round of human infections occur, the possibility exists that the disease could infect commensal rodent populations. If the disease were to progress in rodents, the rodents would suffer mortality and their plague-infected fleas would seek new hosts, potentially including human hosts, and cause a second disease epidemic in humans. This paper outlines the epizoology of the bioweapon use of Y. pestis to commensal rodents, identifies U.S. localities of concern, and suggests control and surveillance strategies in response to a bioterrorism attack of this nature.

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