An official website of the United States government. Here's how you knowHere's how you know
Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.
Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.
Latest Earthquake | Chat Share
Sylvatic plague, caused by Yersinia pestis, is a bacterial disease transmitted by fleas that afflicts many mammalian species, including humans.
Plague is widespread throughout the western U.S. and frequently occurs in wild rodents. All four species of prairie dogs in the U.S. are particularly susceptible to plague, suffering high mortality rates during outbreaks (> 90%) and resulting in local extirpation and population reductions. As a keystone species of grassland ecosystems, prairie dog losses significantly impact numerous other species that depend on them for food or shelter, including endangered black-footed ferrets, burrowing owls, mountain plovers, and several canine and avian predators. Controlling plague is a vital concern for ongoing management and conservation efforts for prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets.
Currently, plague is managed in prairie dogs through manual application of insecticides to burrows to kill the fleas that transmit Y. pestis. However, this process is labor intensive, and recent evidence suggests that fleas can develop resistance to the most frequently used pesticide.
The USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC), in conjunction with others, has developed and tested a sylvatic plague vaccine (SPV), deliverable to prairie dogs via palatable bait that offers an additional approach for plague management. From 2013-15, NWHC scientists conducted a large, collaborative field study to test the effectiveness of SPV in reducing mortality from plague in four species of prairie dogs in 7 western states. This study involved state, federal, tribal and non-government agencies organized under the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team (BFFRIT), a multi-agency effort led by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The study found that vaccine treatment increased prairie dog abundance and also increased survival at sites with plague outbreaks. However, ongoing research is needed to scale-up SPV use as a management tool and to determine if its use will provide benefits to other species, like black-footed ferrets, or whether it could be used to protect public health. Learn more about NWHC work on vaccines.
Additional Sylvatic Plague Vaccine Resources
Below are multimedia items related to sylvatic plague.
Below are publications about sylvatic plague.
Below are news stories about sylvatic plague.
About 70 percent of wild prairie dogs successfully ingested baits containing an oral sylvatic plague vaccine, or SPV, that were distributed throughout...
Reporters are invited to an event near Fort Collins showcasing cooperative efforts to develop a potential breakthrough in wildlife management – an...
Prairie dogs in the wild are less likely to succumb to plague after they ingest peanut-butter-flavored bait that contains a vaccine against the...