The role of deer mice and other species of Peromyscus as enzootic reservoirs for plague remains controversial. In this study, we evaluated early-phase vector efficiency of Aetheca wagneri Baker, a common flea species infesting deer mice, to determine the likelihood that Y. pestis could be spread mouse to mouse by this species. We showed that A. wagneri could transmit plague bacteria to laboratory mice as early as 3 d postinfection (p.i.), but transmission efficiency was quite low (1.03%; 95% CI: 0.19–3.34%) 1–4 d p.i. compared with that for the established plague vector Oropsylla montana Baker (10.63%; 95% CI: 4.18–25.91). Using this early-phase transmission efficiency estimate, we determined through parameterization of a simple predictive model that at least 68 A. wagneri per deer mouse would be required to support levels of transmission adequate for enzootic maintenance. Because deer mice typically harbor fewer than three A. wagneri per host, our data do not support the notion of an independent deer mouse–A. wagneri transmission cycle.
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