Plague Vaccine for Endangered Ferrets
The connection between plague in an endangered ferret and plague in humans might seem far-fetched, but
scientists are increasingly concerned about diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans.
Scientists have known that the potential for transmission is likely especially when humans come into direct
contact or are in close proximity with infected animals. Rats are the normal culprits, but the potential for
transmission from wild animals is also likely.
In November 2007 a National Park
Service biologist contracted plague from a cougar and died. Sylvatic plague is a bacterial disease caused by
Yersinia pestis and transmitted mostly by fleas. It afflicts many mammalian species, including humans. The
endangered black-footed ferret
is no exception. USGS scientists, in collaboration with colleagues at other federal agencies and the University
of Wisconsin, are developing and testing vaccines that can be used to protect black-footed ferrets and their
primary prey, prairie dogs, against plague. Sylvatic plague is usually deadly for both black-footed ferrets and
prairie dogs. After success with captive animals, wildlife biologists have vaccinated ferrets and prairie dogs in
an effort to control an outbreak of plague in the Conata Basin area of Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in
southwestern South Dakota. This is the first time the vaccine has been used during a major plague epizootic (an
animal version of a human epidemic). However, injectable vaccines are not practical for field use in free-ranging
wild animals. Ultimately, management of the disease in ferrets will depend on managing the disease in prairie
dogs. As one could imagine, immunizing entire populations of wild prairie dogs and other rodents is highly
challenging, but preliminary studies indicate prairie dogs can be successfully immunized by distribution of
vaccine-laden baits in the wild. These studies suggest that plague could be managed through oral immunization,
which is good news. As residential areas encroach on plague outbreak or endemic areas, controlling plague in
wildlife and tracking trends in plague transmission becomes more and more relevant to public health.
Genetics Studies Can be Useful During Bear Maulings Investigations
Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Adam Korzekwa
The news is full of stories about using DNA evidence to solve
many types of crimes. USGS scientists have also shown that an adaptation of these same modern molecular genetic
techniques can be applied to issues of public safety involving attacks by wild animals. Scientists from the USGS
Alaska Science Center, Molecular Ecology Laboratory positively identified, through DNA analysis, that a bear
killed by Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) was the same bear
that attacked a runner on an Anchorage trail this past summer. The scientists analyzed samples collected from the
runner's clothing and compared them with the bear's DNA and with DNA previously collected from over 20 brown
bears in the Anchorage area. Genetic data obtained from the samples from the clothing were identical to the DNA
extracted from the bear killed by ADFG. These results demonstrate the utility of applying DNA-based techniques to
issues of public safety involving attacks by wild animals.
Low Levels of Man-Made Chemicals Found in Drinking Water
Low levels of certain man-made chemicals remain in public-water supplies after being treated in selected
community water facilities. This is the finding of a USGS study of water from nine rivers used as a source of
supply for public water systems and in drinking water after treatment. Most of the man-made chemicals assessed
in the study are unregulated in drinking water and are not required to be monitored or removed. Scientists tested
water samples for about 260 commonly used chemicals, including pesticides, solvents, gasoline hydrocarbons,
personal care and household-use products, disinfection by-products, and manufacturing additives. Low levels of
about 130 of the man-made chemicals were detected in rivers before treatment at the public water facilities.
Nearly two-thirds of those chemicals were also detected after treatment. Concentrations of the detected compounds
generally were less than one microgram per liter (1 µg/L). Safe drinking water supplies are important for
maintaining and preserving public health. The results of this study and others like it will help water-resource
managers develop sound policies and practices that help protect human health.
Genetics Provide Evidence for the Movement of Avian Influenza Viruses from Asia to North America via Migratory Birds
USGS technician processing samples to test for avian influenza virus.
(photo courtesy of Don Becker, USGS)
As part of a multi-agency research effort to understand the role of migratory birds in the transfer of avian
influenza viruses between Asia and North America, USGS scientists and their colleagues at the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service and the University of Tokyo have found genetic evidence supporting the role of migratory birds
in the intercontinental transfer of influenza viruses. In an article published in
Molecular Ecology, USGS scientists reported that nearly half of the low
pathogenic avian influenza viruses they found in wild northern pintail ducks in Alaska contained at least one (of
eight) gene segments that were more closely related to Asian than
to North American strains of avian influenza. USGS scientists, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, Alaskan state agencies, and Alaskan native communities, obtained samples from more than 1,400 northern
pintails from locations throughout Alaska. Samples containing viruses were then analyzed and compared to virus
samples taken from other birds in Eastern Asia where northern pintails are known to winter and from North
American waterfowl. Researchers chose northern pintails as the focus of the study because (1) they are known to
migrate between North America and Asia, (2) they are fairly common in North America and Asia, and (3) they are
frequently infected by low pathogenic avian influenza. None of the samples were found to contain completely
Asian-origin viruses and none were highly pathogenic. These results demonstrate the advantage of applying
genetic-based techniques to assess the global movement of diseases by wild animals.
Northern Pintail on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta
- USGS News Release: Genetics Provide Evidence for the Movement of Avian Influenza Viruses from Asia to North America via
- Koehler, A.V., Pearce, J.M., Flint, P.L., Franson, J.C., and Ip, H.S., 2008, Genetic evidence of intercontinental
movement of avian influenza in a migratory bird--The northern pintail (Anas acuta): Molecular Ecology, v. 17, no. 21, p. 4754-4762,
- Movements of Northern Pintail Ducks with Satellite Transmitters
- Alaska Science Center - Avian Influenza Research
- USGS National Wildlife Health Center -
Are Pharmaceuticals in Feed Water to Drinking Water Facilities?
USGS scientists collected raw water-quality samples from sampling ports at wellheads for
ground water (A) or at intake structures for surface water (B) before any treatment or
USGS scientists conducted the first national study of the occurrence of selected pharmaceuticals,
personal-care products, detergents, flame retardants, naturally occurring sterols, and other chemicals of
emerging environmental concern in untreated sources of drinking water in the United States. These emerging
contaminants are commonly associated with animal and human waste waters. USGS scientists collected data from 49
surface-water intakes and 25 wells that would subsequently have been treated for drinking water. The samples were
collected in 25 states and Puerto Rico. This study follows previous USGS research on emerging contaminants in
susceptible ground water and surface water, that is, flowing from areas of high population density and/or high
density of animal agriculture. The results of these studies will help water-resource managers, health
professionals, scientists, and regulators determine if the concentrations and mixtures of chemicals found pose a
threat to human or ecological health.
Lead Shot and Sinkers: Weighty Implications for Ground-Water Quality and Ecological Health
Lead shot in the fall zone at the Broadkiln Sportsman’s Club. (Courtesy of Daniel J. Soeder, USGS)
Lead is a metal with no known beneficial role in biological systems, and its use in gasoline, paint,
pesticides, and solder in food cans has nearly been eliminated. Although lead shot was banned for waterfowl
hunting in 1991, its use in ammunition for upland hunting (typically hunting for small game—quail, pheasants,
rabbits, —on dry land), shooting sports, and in fishing tackle remains common. USGS scientists and their
colleagues authored a technical review published by
The Wildlife Society concluding that
significant amounts of lead are left behind in the environment from the use of lead shotgun pellets, bullets, and
fishing tackle. At upland hunting sites, up to 400,000 shot per acre may be deposited annually. Individual
shooting ranges may receive 1.5 to more than 16 tons of lead shot and bullets annually. Although lead from spent
ammunition and lost fishing tackle is not readily released into the environment, given the right environmental
conditions it can slowly dissolve in water. Scientists have found some cases of lead contamination in ground
water near some shooting ranges and at heavily hunted sites, particularly those hunted year after year. The most
significant hazard to wildlife is through direct ingestion of spent lead shot and bullets, lost fishing sinkers
and tackle, and related fragments, or through consumption of wounded or dead prey containing lead shot, bullets,
and/or fragments. This report provides useful information for resource managers to assess lead issues and to
develop sound management policies.
A New Tool to Help Assess Environmental Human Health Threats Along the U.S.-Mexico Border
Dramatic urban growth, rapid industrialization, and infrastructure problems in cities along the border between
the United States and Mexico have increase environmental problems and risks associated with human health. These
stressors threaten the quality of life in the region and raise concerns about the interdependence of
environmental sustainability and human health. To help environmental and public-health professionals of both
nations USGS scientists are developing a tool that will provide easy access to environmental-quality data to aid
in identifying human populations at risk. The map-based tool uses geospatial statistical techniques to analyze
various indicators of environmental quality (water quality, soil geochemistry, land use, and other data) relative
to measures of fish and human health. The tool is being developed as part to the USGS U.S.-Mexico Border
Environmental Health Initiative (BEHI). BEHI is a multi-agency effort involving collaboration between Federal and
local entities in both the U.S. and Mexico.
The Internet Mapping Service
provides users with binational datasets and the tools to manipulate them over the
Internet. The image above is an example of a user-selected map of the Brownsville, Texas,
area with georeferenced tissue residue information for various aquatic and riparian
Beach Sand Often More Contaminated than Water
Recent research has revealed that beach sand contains high concentrations of E. coli and other fecal indicator
bacteria, often greatly exceeding the concentration in beach water. In many States beach water is routinely
analyzed for E. coli and other fecal indicator bacteria to determine whether human sewage is present. When
bacteria concentrations in water exceed a certain threshold, beaches are typically closed to swimming or swimming
advisories are posted. For most beach closings, the reason for high bacteria concentrations remains unknown.
However; there is growing evidence that beach closings due to elevated fecal indicator bacteria may be linked to
bacteria in the sand. Bacteria are often present in high concentrations in beach sand independent of any recent
contamination events. The health risk associated with these bacteria is as yet unknown, but preliminary studies
are being conducted. This information will potentially help public-health and environmental professionals make
informed decisions about the causes behind beach closings.
No Child Left Inside
Step away from the television! Turn off your computer! Head for the outdoors! The evidence is growing:
Americans spend less and less time outdoors. During Earth Science Week 2008 the USGS encouraged everyone,
especially young people, to get outside. USGS Earth Science Week Web site
offered a few solutions, such as a list of parks with notes on
interesting, exciting or unique things to do in each park, and downloadable 3-D National Parks map with
instructions on how to create your own 3-D glasses! The USGS partnered with the American Geological Institute
and its member societies to sponsor this annual international event. Earth Science
Week 2009 is October 11-17.
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a migratory bird--The northern pintail (Anas acuta): Molecular Ecology, v. 17, no. 21, p. 4754-4762,
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2008, Impact of West Nile virus and other mortality factors on
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Compiled and Edited by David W. Morganwalp