Article

Identification of Risk Factors for Plague in the West Nile Region of Uganda

The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene (Impact Factor: 2.74). 03/2014; 90(6). DOI: 10.4269/ajtmh.14-0035
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Plague is an often fatal, primarily flea-borne rodent-associated zoonosis caused by Yersinia pestis. We sought to identify risk factors for plague by comparing villages with and without a history of human plague cases within a model-defined plague focus in the West Nile Region of Uganda. Although rat (Rattus rattus) abundance was similar inside huts within case and control villages, contact rates between rats and humans (as measured by reported rat bites) and host-seeking flea loads were higher in case villages. In addition, compared with persons in control villages, persons in case villages more often reported sleeping on reed or straw mats, storing food in huts where persons sleep, owning dogs and allowing them into huts where persons sleep, storing garbage inside or near huts, and cooking in huts where persons sleep. Compared with persons in case villages, persons in control villages more commonly reported replacing thatch roofing, and growing coffee, tomatoes, onions, and melons in agricultural plots adjacent to their homesteads. Rodent and flea control practices, knowledge of plague, distance to clinics, and most care-seeking practices were similar between persons in case villages and persons in control villages. Our findings reinforce existing plague prevention recommendations and point to potentially advantageous local interventions.

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    ABSTRACT: Background The distribution of human plague risk is strongly associated with rainfall in the tropical plague foci of East Africa, but little is known about how the plague bacterium is maintained during periods between outbreaks or whether environmental drivers trigger these outbreaks. We collected small mammals and fleas over a two year period in the West Nile region of Uganda to examine how the ecological community varies seasonally in a region with areas of both high and low risk of human plague cases.Methods Seasonal changes in the small mammal and flea communities were examined along an elevation gradient to determine whether small mammal and flea populations exhibit differences in their response to seasonal fluctuations in precipitation, temperature, and crop harvests in areas within (above 1300 m) and outside (below 1300 m) of a model-defined plague focus.ResultsThe abundance of two potential enzootic host species (Arvicanthis niloticus and Crocidura spp.) increased during the plague season within the plague focus, but did not show the same increase at lower elevations outside this focus. In contrast, the abundance of the domestic rat population (Rattus rattus) did not show significant seasonal fluctuations regardless of locality. Arvicanthis niloticus abundance was negatively associated with monthly precipitation at a six month lag and positively associated with current monthly temperatures, and Crocidura spp. abundance was positively associated with precipitation at a three month lag and negatively associated with current monthly temperatures. The abundance of A. niloticus and Crocidura spp. were both positively correlated with the harvest of millet and maize.Conclusions The association between the abundance of several small mammal species and rainfall is consistent with previous models of the timing of human plague cases in relation to precipitation in the West Nile region. The seasonal increase in the abundance of key potential host species within the plague focus, but not outside of this area, suggests that changes in small mammal abundance may create favorable conditions for epizootic transmission of Y. pestis which ultimately may increase risk of human cases in this region.
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