NEW YORK CITY (PIX11) – Fleas capable of carrying the bubonic plague - sinisterly nicknamed the Black Death - have been found hitching rides in the fur of New York City's ubiquitous rats.
That's according to a study published this week in the Journal of Medical Entomology. It's the first study of its kind since the 1920s, researchers with Columbia University and Cornell University said.
Researchers collected more than 6,500 fleas, lice and mites from 133 rats in New York City. Some 500 of those fleas were Oriental rat fleas, the kind that can spread the pathogens that cause the plague which killed millions in the 14th century.
But even though it sounds scary, the city's health department said there's no need to worry. Cases of plague are rare in the U.S. In the southwest, about 10 people are infected by the pathogen every year because of plague-carrying ground squirrels, prairie dogs and fleas.
In a statement, the department said the plague requires extreme circumstances besides fleas to pose a threat to humans and those circumstances do no exist in the Big Apple.
Still, the study's authors urge public health officials to closely monitor the city's rats and the fleas they carry, and reminded residents to remove any conditions that could draw rats to their home - such as food or water left out or tiny spaces ideal as rat shelter.
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