Plague conjures images of Gothic horror–rough wooden carts piled high with pestilent bodies–but it is more than a medieval memory. The disease, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, kills several hundred people every year by attacking the lungs, lymph nodes or blood. Less obviously, plague also ravages wildlife around the world.
…Confined to rural regions, the disease so far is not a major threat to people–only a few Americans die from it annually. But things could change if the bacterium spreads to urban-loving rodents such as rats. Now some researchers think that another species could provide the information needed to contain plague’s spread in the U.S.: the giant gerbils of Kazakhstan.
Unfortunately, this week’s news in rodents is not all good. Trenton, New Jersey is wondering if plague-infected dead mice ended up in the regular trash.
Dr. David Perlin, director of the research institute, said the experiment was part of a National Institutes of Health bioterrorism program to test a vaccine for plague. The infectious disease often caused by bites from rodent fleas is of interest to researchers because of its potential for use by bioterrorists…
The rodents had been infected with the plague, Perlin said, but he said they posed no threat to research staff or the public in part because they were dead. They were also housed in a secure facility that follows protocols for a biohazard site, he said.
This is the same secure facility that lost the mice. Luckily we can count on the giant gerbils of Kazakhstan to come to the rescue. Meanwhile, if your cat drags in something frozen–don’t touch it.