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There are a few different ways that a person can become infected with plague, and animals are the cause in most cases. Common carriers of plague bacteria (Yersinia pestis) include rats, prairie dogs, squirrels, and fleas. Precautions can be taken to reduce the chances of transmitting plague, and animals that are dead should not be picked up or touched, for example.

Plague and Animals: An Overview

Yersinia pestis (the bacteria that cause plague) is found in animals throughout certain parts of the world. It is found most often in rats, but occasionally in other animals. Plague transmission from these infected animals generally occurs in one of three ways:
 
  • Bites from infected rodent fleas
  • Direct contact with infected tissue or bodily fluids
  • Inhaling infected droplets (see Plague Transmission for more information).
     

Plague and Animals: Which Ones Are Carriers?

A number of animals can carry plague bacteria. These animals include:
 
  • Rats
  • Mice
  • Squirrels
  • Fleas
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Lice
  • Prairie dogs
  • Wood rats
  • Chipmunks.
     
Other, less frequent sources of plague include wild rabbits and wild carnivores that pick up their infections from wild rodent outbreaks.
 
Deer mice and voles (field mice) are thought to maintain the disease in animal populations, but are less important as sources of human infection.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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