USA TODAY NETWORKJosh Hafner, USA TODAY Published 7:24 a.m. ET Aug. 16, 2017

The plague is still a problem

The plague still pops up in present day, though not nearly to the extent that it did centuries ago. USA TODAY

Fleas tested positive for the the bubonic plague in two counties in Arizona, with public health officials warning the infectious disease that claimed millions in the Middle Ages may exist in other nearby locations, too.

The plague’s presence in Arizona follows three confirmed human cases in New Mexico earlier this year.

Officials became wary of the problem after prairie dogs began dropping dead on a resident’s property near Williams, Ariz., some 30 miles west of Flagstaff. Fleas in the area later tested positive for the Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes the plague.

Coconino County officials warned on Aug. 3 that other areas may be infected by the disease, which is endemic to the region. A week later, officials in neighboring Navajo County also confirmed plague-positive fleas, too.

“Navajo County Health Department is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and predators that feed upon these animals,” the department said in a statement.

“The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal.”

As such, officials warned against handling sick or dead animals and told residents not to let pets roam loose outdoors, where they can pick up fleas able to infect humans.

“Symptoms of plague in humans generally appear within two to six days following exposure and include the following: fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain, and swollen lymph glands (called ‘buboes’) in the groin, armpits or limbs,” the statement said.

While neither county announced human cases of the plague in their statements, the plague is curable with early treatment and antibiotics.

About seven cases of the plague are reported in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The disease first came to the United States in 1900 aboard steamships carrying infected rats.

The last urban outbreak of the plague in the U.S. occurred in Los Angeles in 1924. Today, most human infections occur in the southwest and near California, southern Oregon and western Nevada, the CDC says.

Kaila White and Cydney Henderson of The USA TODAY NETWORK contributed to this report.

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