Plague is a bacterial zoonotic disease, caused by Yersinia pestis. Rodents are the natural hosts with fleas as the vehicle of disease transmission. Domestic and wild dogs and cats have also been identified as possible disease hosts. In Zambia, plague outbreaks have been reported in the Southern and Eastern regions in the last 20 years. Based on these observations, Y. pestis could possibly be endemically present in the area.
To substantiate such possibility, sera samples were collected from rodents, shrews, dogs and cats for detection of antibodies against Fraction 1 gene (Fra1) of Y. pestis while organs from rodents and shrews, and fleas from both dogs and rodents were collected to investigate plasminogen activator gene (pla gene) of Y. pestis using ELISA and PCR respectively.
A total of 369 blood samples were collected from domestic carnivores, shrews and domestic and peri-domestic rodents while 199 organs were collected from the rodents and shrews. Blood samples were tested for antibodies against Fra1 antigen using ELISA and 3% (5/165) (95% CI 0.99–6.93%) dogs were positive while all cats were negative. Of 199 sera from rodents and shrews, 12.6% (95% CI 8.30–17.98%) were positive for antibodies against Fra1 using anti-rat IgG secondary antibody while using anti-mouse IgG secondary antibody, 17.6% (95% CI 12.57–23.60%) were positive. PCR was run on the organs and 2.5% (95% CI 0.82–5.77%) were positive for plasminogen activator gene of Y. pestis and the amplicons were sequenced and showed 99% identity with Y. pestis reference sequences. All 82 fleas collected from animals subjected to PCR, were negative for pla gene. The specific rat-flea and dog-flea indices were 0.19 and 0.27 respectively, which were lower than the level required to enhance chances of the disease outbreak.
We concluded that plague was still endemic in the area and the disease may infect human beings if contact is enhanced between reservoir hosts and flea vectors. The lower specific rodent-flea Indices and absence of Y. pestis in the potential vectors were considered to be partly responsible for the current absence of plague outbreaks despite its presence in the sylvatic cycle.
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