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Plague and trace metals in natural systems

August 12, 2022

All pathogenic organisms are exposed to abiotic influences such as the microclimates and chemical constituents of their environments. Even those pathogens that exist primarily within their hosts or vectors can be influenced directly or indirectly. Yersinia pestis, the flea-borne bacterium causing plague, is influenced by climate and its survival in soil suggests a potentially strong influence of soil chemistry. We summarize a series of controlled studies conducted over four decades in Russia by Dr. Evgeny Rotshild and his colleagues that investigated correlations between trace metals in soils, plants, and insects, and the detection of plague in free-ranging small mammals. Trace metal concentrations in plots where plague was detected were up to 20-fold higher or lower compared to associated control plots, and these differences were >2-fold in 22 of 38 comparisons. The results were statistically supported in eight studies involving seven host species in three families and two orders of small mammals. Plague tended to be positively associated with manganese and cobalt, and the plague association was negative for copper, zinc, and molybdenum. In additional studies, these investigators detected similar connections between pasturellosis and concentrations of some chemical elements. A One Health narrative should recognize that the chemistry of soil and water may facilitate or impede epidemics in humans and epizootics in non-human animals.

Publication Year 2022
Title Plague and trace metals in natural systems
DOI 10.3390/ijerph19169979
Authors Michael Kosoy, Dean E. Biggins
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Index ID 70248350
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center