Testing Plague Vaccine on Prairie Dogs


by Karl Puckett, Great Falls Tribune

In the study, scientists are assessing the effectiveness of an oral vaccine in preventing plague in prairie dogs over a wide geographic range. If approved, the vaccine could be distributed in colonies in the form of pellets that the dogs would eat.

“We're almost hoping plague comes in and hits some of them so we can test the effectiveness of the vaccine,”  says Randy Matchett, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist.

Periodically, the same plague that caused pandemics in human populations in the Middle Ages, known as “black death,” wipes out the colonies. The plague in the rodents and humans is caused by the same bacteria. It's often transmitted via bites from fleas carried by rodents.

Why save the prairie dog?

Driving the multistate effort is the black-footed ferret, which is listed as endangered and dependent on the prairie dogs as a food source.

A plague vaccine already has been developed for ferrets. But even if ferrets can be protected from plague, they'll die off if prairie dogs aren't around, said Randy Matchett, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. The ferrets hunt the prairie dogs in their burrows.

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Source:  Great Falls Tribune

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