To determine whether swift foxes (Vulpes velox) could facilitate transmission of Yersinia pestis to uninfected black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies by acquiring infected fleas, ectoparasite and sero-logic samples were collected from swift foxes living adjacent to prairie dog towns during a 2004 plague epizootic in northwestern Texas, USA. A previous study (1999–2001) indicated that these swift foxes were infested almost exclusively with the flea Pulex irritans. Black-tailed prairie dogs examined from the study area harbored only Pulex simulans and Oropsylla hirsuta. Although P. irritans was most common, P. simulans and O. hirsuta were collected from six swift foxes and a single coyote (Canis latrans) following the plague epizootic. Thus, both of these canids could act as transport hosts (at least temporarily) of prairie dog fleas following the loss of their normal hosts during a plague die-off. All six adult swift foxes tested positive for antibodies to Y. pestis. All 107 fleas from swift foxes tested negative for Y. pestis by mouse inoculation. Although swift foxes could potentially carry Y. pestis to un-infected prairie dog colonies, we believe they play only a minor role in plague epidemiology, considering that they harbored just a few uninfected prairie dog fleas (P. simulans and O. hirsuta).
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Vol. 42 • No. 2