We used a quantitative competitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) (QC-PCR) to determine bacterial loads in 669 fleas collected in areas of confirmed and suspected plague epizootics. Fleas were collected out of rodent burrows (67.9%) and off of captured animals (24.1%) and rodent carcasses (8.1%). An initial PCR screening assay indicated that 12.1% (81/669) of all fleas were positive for Yersinia pestis. Fleas collected from burrows had significantly lower (χ2 = 264.9, P < 0.0001) infection rates (6.8%) but significantly higher (Student t-test, P < 0.0001) bacterial loads (mean = 105.6 Y. pestis per flea) than fleas collected off of rodent carcasses (infection rate = 92.6%; mean bacterial load = 104.8 Y. pestis per flea). None of the fleas collected off of captured animals were positive for Y. pestis by PCR, although seven of the 176 captured animals were serologically positive for Y. pestis.
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