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1 March 2011 Effects of Temperature on Early-Phase Transmission of Yersina pestis by the Flea, Xenopsylla cheopis
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Sharp declines in human and animal cases of plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis (Yersin), have been observed when outbreaks coincide with hot weather. Failure of biofilm production, or blockage, to occur in the flea, as temperatures reach 30°C has been suggested as an explanation for these declines. Recent work demonstrating efficient flea transmission during the first few days after fleas have taken an infectious blood meal, in the absence of blockage (e.g., early-phase transmission), however, has called this hypothesis into question. To explore the potential effects of temperature on early-phase transmission, we infected colony-reared Xenopsylla cheopis (Rothchild) fleas with a wild-type strain of plague bacteria using an artificial feeding system, and held groups of fleas at 10, 23, 27, and 30°C. Naive Swiss Webster mice were exposed to fleas from each of these temperatures on days 1–4 postinfection, and monitored for signs of infection for 21 d. Temperature did not significantly influence the rates of transmission observed for fleas held at 23, 27, and 30°C. Estimated per flea transmission efficiencies for these higher temperatures ranged from 2.32 to 4.96% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.96–8.74). In contrast, no transmission was observed in mice challenged by fleas held at 10°C (per flea transmission efficiency estimates, 0–1.68%). These results suggest that declines in human and animal cases during hot weather are not related to changes in the abilities of X. cheopis fleas to transmit Y. pestis infections during the early-phase period. By contrast, transmission may be delayed or inhibited at low temperatures, indicating that epizootic spread of Y. pestis by X. cheopis via early-phase transmission is unlikely during colder periods of the year.

Anna M. Schotthoefer, Scott W. Bearden, Sara M. Vetter, Jennifer Holmes, John A. Montenieri, Christine B. Graham, Michael E. Woods, Rebecca J. Eisen, and Kenneth L. Gage "Effects of Temperature on Early-Phase Transmission of Yersina pestis by the Flea, Xenopsylla cheopis," Journal of Medical Entomology 48(2), 411-417, (1 March 2011).
Received: 10 June 2010; Accepted: 1 October 2010; Published: 1 March 2011

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