South Dakota Tech News
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 27, 2004
Contact: Steve Buchholz, Public Information Manager, 394-6082
Research Predicts Spread Of Plague
As South Dakota officials deal with a recently discovered case of sylvatic plague in a prairie dog, South Dakota researchers have received funding to study how the disease could spread.
Researchers at South Dakota Tech in Rapid City and at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion are collaborating on the National Science Foundation-funded project.
Dr. Maribeth Price, an associate professor in Tech’s Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, received approximately $12,000 from the. The project is part of a larger effort initiated and coordinated by a group of genetics researchers at the University of South Dakota. The project runs through July 1, 2005
The study will use genetic and computer analysis to develop scenarios predicting the spread of plague across the study area in north-central Montana. These models will then be adapted to Badlands National Park, a site with large prairie dog populations. The goal is to provide a risk assessment model to aid decision-making in the event of a plague outbreak in the park.
A prairie dog infected with plague recently was found in western Custer County in what is the first confirmed case of plague in South Dakota wildlife in recent history, state officials said last week. Plague has killed massive numbers of prairie dogs in eastern Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and other states.
Prairie dogs are subject to periodic episodes of plague, the disease that killed millions of Europeans in the "Black Death" pandemic in the 14th to 18th centuries. At that time, the disease was commonly associated with rats.
This disease has spread to rodent populations in North America, including the prairie dog. It can wipe out entire colonies, and offers significant threats to human populations. Fortunately, the disease is rarely fatal in humans because of the advent of antibiotics.
“This project is important in understanding the genetic characteristics of prairie dogs and the fleas that carry the disease, and it adds to the understanding of the way plague and other diseases spread out across a landscape,” Dr. Price said. “It also will provide tools to help manage the possible negative consequences of plague outbreaks, both to animal and human populations.”
The research results could provide the tools to help ease a possible plague outbreak at the park, and minimize the risk to human visitors. The models can also be modified for use with other prairie dog populations, and could offer a starting point for modeling other diseases.
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