Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Epizootic plague in prairie dogs: Correlates and control with deltamethrin

February 24, 2021

The plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, is a generalist pathogen of flea (Siphonaptera) vectors and mammalian hosts. In colonies of prairie dogs (PDs, Cynomys spp.), Y. pestis causes occasional epizootics, killing ≥90% of PDs within weeks to several months. We evaluated the effectiveness of deltamethrin, a pyrethroid insecticide, as a tool for preventing plague epizootics among three PD species. Specifically, we studied PD population growth on paired plots treated with deltamethrin for flea control or left untreated as baselines. We also evaluated PD population growth relative to flea abundance and PD density. All epizootics occurred on nontreated plots. Epizootics occurred on plots with very low PD densities as well as high densities. Mean population change, assessed by comparing visual counts of PDs in years before and during epizootics, was +88% for treated plots and −97% for nontreated plots. For comparison, an experimental oral vaccine against plague had an average change in population index or estimate during epizootics of −69% on vaccine plots compared with −83% for associated nontreated (placebo) plots. In our study and on plots not treated with deltamethrin, PD population growth was negatively correlated with flea abundance in the year before the epizootic, lending support to the hypothesis that flea abundance plays a critical role in plague transmission under natural conditions. Generally speaking, deltamethrin is a highly effective tool for plague management on PD colonies. That said, continued study is needed to refine deltamethrin treatments and to develop a more integrated strategy for plague management.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Epizootic plague in prairie dogs: Correlates and control with deltamethrin
DOI 10.1089/vbz.2020.2684
Authors Dean E. Biggins, Jerry L. Godbey, David A. Eads
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
Series Number
Index ID 70228856
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center